William J. Maxwell

​Professor of English and of African and African-American Studies
PhD, Duke University
MA, Duke University
BA, Columbia University
research interests:
  • African American Literature
  • Modern and Contemporary American Literature
  • Modernism
  • US and Black Diasporan Cultural and Political History

contact info:

mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
  • CB 1122
  • ONE BROOKINGS DR.
  • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899

William J. Maxwell teaches courses in 20th- and 21st-century American and African-American literatures.

Maxwell's scholarly research, rooted in both modernist and African-American studies, addresses the ties among African-American writing, political history, and transatlantic culture.

For more information, visit William Maxwell's department profile.

James Baldwin: The FBI File

James Baldwin: The FBI File

Decades before Black Lives Matter returned James Baldwin to prominence, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI considered the Harlem-born author the most powerful broker between black art and black power. Baldwin’s 1,884-page FBI file, covering the period from 1958 to 1974, was the largest compiled on any African American artist of the Civil Rights era. This collection of once-secret documents, never before published in book form, captures the FBI’s anxious tracking of Baldwin’s writings, phone conversations, and sexual habits—and Baldwin’s defiant efforts to spy back at Hoover and his G-men.

James Baldwin: The FBI File reproduces over one hundred original FBI records, selected by the noted literary historian whose award-winning book, F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, brought renewed attention to bureau surveillance. William J. Maxwell also provides an introduction exploring Baldwin's enduring relevance in the time of Black Lives Matter along with running commentaries that orient the reader and offer historical context, making this book a revealing look at a crucial slice of the American past—and present.

F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature

F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature

Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover’s white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI’s hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau’s intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem’s renaissance and Hoover’s career at the Bureau, secretive FBI “ghostreaders” monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover’s death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau’s close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.