August 2016 | Nate Pedersen

The Fight to Save James Baldwin's House in Provence

James_Baldwin_in_his_house_in_Saint-Paul_de_Vence.JPGThe Provencal house of James Baldwin, the African American novelist and essayist who died in 1987, has been purchased by a real estate development company with plans to convert the house into luxury condos. The company has already demolished two wings of the 17th-century house, which had become dilapidated in recent years. American novelist Shannon Cain, based in Paris, has launched a last-ditch fight to save the house and realize Baldwin's original hope of turning the house into a writers' colony.

Baldwin, who spent his formative years in Harlem, emigrated to France when he was 24 years old to flee American prejudice against African Americans and gays. After initially living in Paris and immersing himself in Left Bank culture, Baldwin purchased his home in the Provencal village Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1970. For the next 17 years, until his death at 63 from stomach cancer, Baldwin was a beloved member of the local community. Baldwin also entertained many famous African American authors and artists at his house, including Miles Davis, Nina Simone, and Ray Charles.

After Baldwin's death in 1987, a dispute over the ownership of the house resulted in a loss for the Baldwin estate and the house has since been sold three times including most recently by the real estate company with redevelopment plans.

When Shannon Cain learned about the intentions for the Baldwin house, she launched a campaign to preserve it. She squatted in the house for 10 days in an attempt to prevent further demolition. Cain also launched a campaign website where she states, "the plan is the same as it's been from the outset - to work with the ministry of culture to seize the house on the grounds that historic preservation laws were violated, and if that plan fails to raise the money to purchase the house from the developer."

The Baldwin estate has successfully prevented Cain from using Baldwin's name in her campaign, which she has instead labeled "His House in Provence."

[Image of Baldwin in his Saint-Paul-de-Vence from Wikipedia]