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James Baldwin

Biography

James Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem. His mother was unmarried. Three years later she married David Baldwin, a Baptist preacher, who adopted the young James. The couple had eight children together. James spent his childhood reading and caring for his younger siblings. He started writing while at school. At the age of fourteen, he had a religious conversion and became a Pentecostal, partially to spite his stepfather, whom he hated. After school, he worked at a variety of odd jobs, partially to support his family as his stepfather was in a mental hospital. He was also writing reviews and short stories for magazines. His stepfather died in 1943 and his mother gave birth to their eighth child at around the same time. At this time he met Richard Wright, who helped him get an award for promising writers. In 1948, he went to Paris where he lived for nearly ten years.

Life wasn’t easy for him in Paris, as he had considerable financial difficulties. However, he found less racism and more tolerance towards his homosexuality. In 1949, he published his famous Everybody’s Protest Novel in the Partisan Review, which attacked protest fiction, including Wright’s. This created a rift between the two men that was never repaired. At this time he worked hard on a novel called In My Father’s House, which was finally published in 1953 as Go Tell it on the Mountain, about a young black man’s relationship with his stepfather and his subsequent religious conversion. The work received excellent reviews. His second novel, Giovanni’s Room, focused less on race and more on sexuality and had mixed reviews. His next novel, Another Country, – he had also published two collection of essays – also had mixed reviews, some acclaiming it as failure while others recognised it for its ambition. On a personal level, Baldwin had now returned to the United States and was getting increasingly involved in the political movement of the early Sixties, particularly civil rights issues. He continued to publish essays, stories and novels and wrote plays. However his later novels were not well received. He returned to France, living in Vence, where he died in 1987 of cancer.

Other links

James Baldwin
James Baldwin
James Baldwin (1924-1987)
James Baldwin: An Appreciation
More on James Baldwin
James Baldwin, ‘Lifting The Veil’
An Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Y. Davis by James Baldwin
Obituary
Interview
Interview

Bibliography

1953 Go Tell it on the Mountain (novel)
1954 The Amen Corner
1955 Notes of a Native Son (essays)
1956 Giovanni’s Room (novel)
1957 Sonny’s Blues
1961 Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (essays)
1962 Another Country (novel)
1963 The Fire Next Time (essays)
1963 A Talk to Teachers (essays)
1964 Blues for Mister Charlie (drama)
1964 Nothing Personal (text to photos by Richard Avedon)
1965 Going to Meet the Man (stories)
1968 Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (novel)
1968 The Amen Corner: A Play (drama)
1971 A Rap on Race (with Margaret Mead)
1972 No Name in the Street (essays)
1973 A Dialogue (with Nikki Giovanni)
1974 If Beale Street Could Talk (novel)
1976 The Devil Finds Work (essays)
1976 Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood (with Yoran Cazac)
1979 Just Above My Head (novel)
1983 Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems
1985 The Evidence of Things Not Seen (essays)
1985 The Price of the Ticket (essays)
1989 Gypsy & Other Poems
2004 Native Sons (with Sol Stein)
2010 The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (essays)