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, James Baldwin's fifth novel, 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 their love protects them from their respective dysfunctional 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.


This book is about a 19-year-old girl named Tish, whose real name is Clementine, with a 22-year-old sculptor named Fonny, whose real name is Alonzo. They become engaged and then, she becomes pregnant. However, he is falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, Victoria Rogers. He was set up by a racist police man (Officer Bell) and he soon goes to jail.

Ms. Rogers left the United States to go back to Puerto Rico and Tish's mother Sharon travels there to find evidence that will set Fonny free, which pushes them all through New York and San Juan. Baldwin narrates through Tish’s point of view as well as Fonny's. The tone of the story is both sad and sweet. This content is very explicit with mature scenes. This book describes what a strong family the Rivers family is and how they stuck together until the end of everything. Although Fonny's own mother and sisters did not bother to save him, the Rivers family takes him in as their own. They work extra hours so that they could make the money to pay the lawyer and to try to pay for Fonny's bail if he gets out on bail. In the end, Fonny's father commits suicide. Furthermore, the baby is finally born. Throughout the whole story the author shows what a powerful family is and the troubles they went through.