If Beale Street Could Talk

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If Beale Street Could Talk
First edition
Author James Baldwin
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Michael Joseph
Publication date
17 June 1974
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 197
ISBN 0-7181-1126-5
OCLC 3150118
LC Class PZ4.B18 If3 PS3552.A45

If Beale Street Could Talk is a 1974 novel by the American writer James Baldwin. His fifth novel[1] (and 13th book overall[2]), it is a love story set in Harlem in the early 1970s. The title is a reference to the 1916 W.C. Handy blues song "Beale Street Blues".

Plot introduction[edit]

Fonny and Tish are in love, and this protects them from their respective families and the outside world until Fonny is falsely accused of rape. After his imprisonment, Tish finds out she is pregnant and she, her family, and her lawyer race against the clock to find evidence that frees Fonny before the baby is born.


The book follows a relationship between a 19-year-old girl named Tish, whose real name is Clementine, and a 22-year-old sculptor named Fonny, whose real name is Alonzo. They become engaged, and she subsequently becomes pregnant. However, he is falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, Victoria Rogers. It emerges that Fonny was set up by a racist policeman, and soon goes to jail.

Critical reception[edit]

Reviewing the novel in The New York Times in 1974, the novelist Joyce Carol Oates described the book as "a moving, painful story" but "ultimately optimistic. It stresses the communal bond between members of an oppressed minority, especially between members of a family," offering "a quite moving and very traditional celebration of love. It affirms not only love between a man and a woman, but love of a type that is dealt with only rarely in contemporary fiction--that between members of a family, which may involve extremes of sacrifice."[2]

In 2015, Stacia L. Brown, writing in Gawker, similarly found Beale Street "belong[ed] to a collection of literature that seeks to humanize black men, through their relationships with parents, lovers, siblings, and children. It swan-dives from optimism to bleakness and rises from the ash of dashed hopes."[1] Speaking to Hugh Hebert of The Guardian upon the release of Beale Street in 1974, Baldwin characterized his own work similarly: " 'Every poet is an optimist,' [Baldwin] says. But on the way to that optimism 'you have to reach a certain level of despair to deal with your life at all.' "[3]

Film adaptation[edit]

Barry Jenkins wrote and directed the film adaptation of the novel. The adaptation was produced by Plan B Entertainment and stars an ensemble cast. Annapurna Pictures will release the film on November 30, 2018.


  1. ^ a b Brown, Stacia L. (April 9, 2015). "What James Baldwin's Writing Tells Us About Today". Gawker. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  2. ^ a b Oates, Joyce Carol (May 19, 1974). "If Beale Street Could Talk". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  3. ^ Hebert, Hugh (2016-06-18). "James Baldwin's much anticipated new novel – archive". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-16.