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UNITED STATES – JUNE 01: Author James Baldwin (Photo by Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

A notable contender this awards season, Barry Jenkins’s film If Beale Street Could Talk is an exquisite adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel about black intimacy against the backdrop of white racism. The movie also offers viewers a chance to reflect on the work of an author who is as indispensable today as he was in his own lifetime. Baldwin’s literary career spanned four decades, from 1947 to 1987—a time when the United States witnessed many seismic political and cultural shifts, and during which Baldwin’s own artistic vision evolved. If Beale Street Could Talk, which was published in 1974 and follows a young black couple whose lives are torn apart by a false criminal accusation, is a harbinger of Baldwin’s late style. In particular, the novel marked a crucial turn in how the author sought to characterize the most abiding theme and moral principle of his work: love.

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