James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a black American poet, novelist, and essayist, who worked to support interracial marriage and homosexual rights. His works include Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), Another Country (1962) and Just Above my Head (1979).
Life and Works
Baldwin was born August 2, 1924, in Harlem, to Emma Berdis Jones and her abusive husband, whom she divorced and replaced with a new father, a Pentecostal preacher, who adopted the young James Baldwin. At fourteen years old, he was very religious, but his family was desperate for money and he made little money as a preacher, so he worked a war-time factory job in the Second World War. Enduring the teasing of the white workers, and having written for a magazine at his high school, he decided to become a writer, so he secured a fellowship and moved to Europe seeking less prejudice.
He lost his father in 1943, but clung to his fellowship with Richard Wright, and in 1953 published his first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain. It was a stunning autobiographical piece detailing his experience in poverty in Harlem, and was followed by two books of essays, Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name, and two novels concerning homosexuality and interracial relationships, Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Another Country (1962). His works were acclaimed by black readers as a known truth, and confronted white readers with their sins in a reasonable and logical fashion. His works continued, but lost their Biblical tone as he published Another Country and filled the New Yorker with The Fire Next Time (1963), which began to concern more of sexuality than race.
“It is astonishing that in a country so devoted to the individual, so many people should be afraid to speak.”
~ James BaldwinBaldwin believed he had hit the jackpot, being a black homosexual, knowing he could use his color to support the gay rights movement. He lived a life of acclaim in cities like Paris and Istanbul until dying on November 30, 1987, of stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vance, France.
- The New York Public Library Student's Desk Reference. Prentice Hall, New York, 1991.
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