Baldwin: Reading and Writing in France – Sjournee Cornelius-Quaidoo

Sjournee Cornelius-Quaidoo

Eugene Lang Opportunity Award 2018


Over the span of six-weeks (July 1 – August 11) I participated in the James Baldwin: Reading and Writing in France program. We travelled around Paris, Saint-Paul-De-Vence and Vence over the weeks, in addition to reading over eight books and multiple essays within this time period. It was an amazing experience and I’m thankful to the Eugene Lang Opportunity Award and my Faculty Advisor Mia White for supporting me on taking the trip and support the work I aimed to create and some of which I now get to share below.



Since the beginning of the program we were asked to be vulnerable and speak shamelessly in our writing. Which Baldwin always conveyed in his own. We read:

Go Tell it On The Mountain 

The Fire Next Time 

The Devil Finds Work 

Another Country 

Notes of A Native Son 

Nobody Know My Name 

Giovanni’s Room 

Between the World and Me (By Ta-Nehisi Coates)

other articles written by Thomas Chatterton Williams and Scott Korb and a couple films including, I Am Not Your Negro.


In the middle of our first almost second week the class took a trip to Baldwin’s beloved home, Saint-Paul-De-Vence in Southern France.

Here are some images of the city where Baldwin lived in the last years of his life, Saint-Paul-De-Vence. Also, some images of the exhibition we (ironically!) came across while visiting the city put together by a non-profit called Les Amies De La Maison Baldwin (which has a known controversy with the Baldwin Estate linked below).

en Français:

in English:


After we returned to Paris,

We worked on creating two final pieces for this course, which was a brilliant challenge for the end of the six weeks. I began with a collection of letters as one piece and a collection of poems, notes and thoughts throughout the course that were carefully selected and placed together, but after talking with my professor I reimagined the two separate pieces. One is a collection of the original letters, notes, poems, and thoughts (untouched and unedited) with the raw materials they were written with and on – ultimately how they would be sent to the written recipient. Then, the second piece is similar, still a compliation of letters, thoughts, poems, etc but edited for the reader in my desired aesthetic. I was timid to this at first, but after being educated on the story of Julia Wilbur (an amazing diarist) I decided to be vulnerable.

Julia Wilbur references –

written (transcribed) diaries:

an opinion piece on her by my professor Scott Korb:

There were many Baldwin coincidences while on this trip, meeting Shannon Cain (in charge of non-profit Les Amies De La Maison Baldwin) during the Baldwin Portraits exhibition, meeting a Sydney a book-seller along the Seine who sells first edition Baldwin, Richard Wright, Chester Heims and more!, seeing Baldwin’s home (mostly demolished), running into locals from Saint-Paul that knew him, Seeing Zadie Smith read Feel Free after discussing it in class, a film rendition of Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk will be in theaters this fall – and so on. This trip was magical, to say the least.

Here are the pieces I created for the final of this class, which I will continue to work on after leaving France.

Letters to James –

Here are the pieces I created for the final of this class, which I will continue to work on after leaving France. They are very personal and vulnerable pieces handwritten, typed, and scanned. Like I said in the intro, these two pieces are split between

The original works:


The edited works:

This gives you a little snippet of the books that will hold the collection of pieces I created throughout the trip.

Once I return to New York and receive my final installment of the scholarship, I am excited to convert these works into a physical book. Thanks to the first half of the scholarship I was able to get supplies, notebooks, paper to experiment with for the final compilation, and books related to (or written by) James Baldwin and diary/letter based writing forms. I look forward to updating this post with the final book I create thanks to Eugene Lang’s Opportunity Award and the life-changing experience learning about James Baldwin in France.

More snapshots from the experience (all the images in this post are my own, unless otherwise stated.)

Sjournee Cornelius-Quaidoo

August 2018

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