Instructors’ Teaching Experience

I taught Giovanni's Room as part of a course based on alienation, so we focused primarily on how David's relationship to his sexuality results in his alienation from others and own self-alienation. I was nervous the students would find Baldwin's prose too complex, but the book taught very well. The prose allowed for rigorous close reading and students found the story compelling and had a lot to say about David's various relationships. It was especially interesting discussing Hella's role in the text. Although the book is on the shorter side, I split it up over a longer period of time (2.5 weeks) since students had to read it more slowly.

Classroom Strategies

Mapping Home

The concept of home-making is central to the novel, as evidenced in David's various temporary homes (America, Giovanni's room, old French house with Hella, etc.). To get students thinking about why David fails to create a sustaining home for himself in the novel, I do an in-class activity that begins with students making concept maps of the word home, then has them turn to the various sites of "home" in the novel to examine how these spaces fit their own definitions. The exercise highlights how David's internal struggles foreclose the possibility of settling into a comfortable, fulfilling life. Full lesson plan is available here: Mapping Home in Giovanni's Room.

Queer Love Today

In 2019, the New York Times Style Magazine published an article and photoseries they termed a "visual reimagining of Giovanni’s Room." The article provides a lot of background information and context for the publication of the novel, while the accompanying photos by John Edmonds reimagine the novel, in part by casting an interracial couple as David and Giovanni. (The explanation for this choice is at the very end of the article.) This can be an interesting source to assign for the final day of teaching the novel, or simply to bring into class to have a discussion about the relationship between the novel and the photo series and the space for queer (and interracial) romance over 60 years after the novel's publication. (This is especially worthwhile if Giovanni's Room is the only text on your syllabus to feature a queer protagonist.)