James Baldwin (writer)

James Baldwin (writer)

Infobox Writer
name = "James Arthur Baldwin"

imagesize =
caption = James Baldwin, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955
pseudonym =
birthdate = birth date|1924|8|2
birthplace = Harlem, New York, United States
deathdate = death date and age|1987|11|30|1924|8|2
deathplace = Saint-Paul de Vence, France
occupation = Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Poet, Playwright,
nationality = American
period =
genre = Fiction, non-fiction
subject =
movement =
influences = Richard Wright
influenced = Suzan-Lori Parks, Toni Morrison, bell hooks

website =

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924November 30, 1987) was an American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist, and civil rights activist.

Most of Baldwin's work deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. His novels are notable for the personal way in which they explore questions of identity as well as for the way in which they mine complex social and psychological pressures related to being black and homosexual well before the social, cultural or political equality of these groups was improved.cite book| author=Jean-François Gounardoo, Joseph J. Rodgers| title= The Racial Problem in the Works of Richard Wright and James Baldwin| publisher= Greenwood Press| date= 1992 p 158 p 148-200 ]


James Arthur Baldwin, an African American, was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City to a single mother, Emma Berdis Jones. When he was still young, his mother married a preacher, David Baldwin, who adopted James. The family was poor, and James and his adopted father had a difficult relationship. Baldwin attended the prestigious De Witt Clinton Public High School in New York. At the age of 14 he joined the Pentecostal Church and became a Pentecostal preacher.

When he was 17 years old, Baldwin turned away from religion and moved to Greenwich Village, a New York City neighborhood famous for its freethinking artists and writers. Supporting himself with odd jobs, he began to write short stories, essays, and book reviews, many of which were later collected in the volume "Notes of a Native Son" (1955).

During this time Baldwin began to recognize his own homosexuality. In 1948, disillusioned by American prejudice against blacks and homosexuals, Baldwin left the United States for Paris, France, where he would live for most of his later life. [ [http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761571268/Baldwin_James.html James Baldwin - MSN Encarta ] ]

Inspiration and relationships

One source of support came from an admired older writer Richard Wright, whom he called "the greatest black writer in the world for me." Wright and Baldwin became friends for a short time and Wright helped him to secure the "Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Award". Baldwin titled a collection of essays "Notes of a Native Son", in clear reference to Wright's novel "Native Son". However, Baldwin's 1949 essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" ended the two authors' friendship [Michelle M. Wright '"Alas, Poor Richard!": Transatlantic Baldwin, The Politics of Forgetting, and the Project of Modernity', "James Baldwin Now", ed. Dwight A. McBride, New York University Press, 1999, page 208] because Baldwin asserted that Wright's novel "Native Son", like Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin", lacked credible characters and psychological complexity. However, during an interview with Julius Lester, [cite web| url=http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-reflections.html| title=Baldwin Reflections| publisher=New York Times] Baldwin explained that his adoration for Wright remained: "I knew Richard and I loved him. I was not attacking him; I was trying to clarify something for myself."

1949 was also the year he met and fell in love with Lucien Happsberger. The boy was a seventeen-year-old runaway, and the two became very close, until Happsberger's marriage three years later, an event that left Baldwin devastated. [Winston Wilde, "Legacies of Love" p.93]

Another major influence on Baldwin's life was the African-American painter Beauford Delaney. In "The Price of the Ticket" (1985), Baldwin describes Delaney as "the first living proof, for me, that a black man could be an artist. In a warmer time, a less blasphemous place, he would have been recognized as my teacher and I as his pupil. He became, for me, an example of courage and integrity, humility and passion. An absolute integrity: I saw him shaken many times and I lived to see him broken but I never saw him bow."

Baldwin was a close friend of the singer, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Together with Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry, Baldwin is responsible for making Simone aware of the civil rights movement that was forming at that time to fight racial inequality. He also provided her with literary references that influenced her later work. Maya Angelou called Baldwin her "friend and brother", and credited him for "setting the stage" for the writing of her 1969 autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". [cite news | last = Angelou | first = Maya | title = A brother's love | work = The New York Times | date = 1987-12-20 | url = http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-angelou.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=login | accessdate = 2008-10-08]

Literary career

In 1953, Baldwin's first novel, "Go Tell It on the Mountain", an autobiographical bildungsroman, was published. Baldwin's first collection of essays, "Notes of a Native Son", appeared two years after. Baldwin continued to experiment with literary forms throughout his career, publishing poetry and plays as well as the fiction and essays for which he was known.

Baldwin's second novel, "Giovanni's Room", stirred controversy when it was first published in 1956 due to its explicit homoerotic content. [Field, Douglas. Passing as a Cold War novel : anxiety and assimilation in James Baldwin's Giovanni's room. In: American Cold War culture / edited by Douglas Field. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 2005.] Baldwin was again resisting labels with the publication of this work:cite book| author=Lawrie Balfour| title= The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy| publisher= Cornell University Press| date=2001| isbn=978-0-8014-8698-2 page 51] despite the reading public's expectations that he would publish works dealing with the African American experience, "Giovanni's Room" is exclusively about white characters. Baldwin's next two novels, "Another Country" and "Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone", are sprawling, experimental works [Miller, D. Quentin. James Baldwin American Writers Retrospective Supplement II, ed. Jay Parini. Scribner's, 2003, 1-17] dealing with black and white characters and with heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual characters. [cite news| author=Paul Goodman| title=Not Enough of a World to Grow In (review of Another Country)| url=http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-country.html| date=1962-06-24| publisher=The New York Times] These novels struggle to contain the turbulence of the 1960s:Fact|date=May 2007 they are saturated with a sense of violent unrest and outrage.Fact|date=May 2007

Baldwin's lengthy essay "Down at the Cross" (frequently called "The Fire Next Time" after the title of the book in which it was published) [cite news| author=Sheldon Binn| title=Reivew of "The Fire Next Time"| date= 1963-01-31| publisher= The New York Times| url=http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-fire.html ] similarly showed the seething discontent of the 1960s in novel form. The essay was originally published in two oversized issues of "The New Yorker" and landed Baldwin on the cover of "Time" magazine in 1963 while Baldwin was touring the South speaking about the restive Civil Rights movement. The essay talked about the uneasy relationship between Christianity and the burgeoning Black Muslim movement. Baldwin's next book-length essay, "No Name in the Street", also discussed his own experience in the context of the later 1960s, specifically the assassinations of three of his personal friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Baldwin's writings of the 1970s and 1980s have been largely overlooked by critics. The assassinations of black leaders in the 1960s, Eldridge Cleaver's vicious homophobic attack on Baldwin in "Soul on Ice", and Baldwin's return to southern France contributed to the sense that he was not in touch with his readership. Always true to his own convictions rather than to the tastes of others, Baldwin continued to write what he wanted to write. His two novels written in the 1970s, "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "Just Above My Head", placed a strong emphasis on the importance of black families, and he concluded his career by publishing a volume of poetry, "Jimmy's Blues", as well as another book-length essay, "The Evidence of Things Not Seen", which was an extended meditation inspired by the Atlanta Child Murders of the early 1980s.


Baldwin's influence on other writers has been profound: Toni Morrison edited the Library of America two volume editions of Baldwin's fiction and essays, and a recent collection of critical essays links these two writers.

In 1987, Kevin Brown, a photo-journalist from Baltimore, MD founded the National James Baldwin Literary Society. The group organizes free public events celebrating Baldwin's life and legacy.

In 1992, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, established the James Baldwin Scholars program, an urban outreach initiative, in honor of Baldwin, who taught at Hampshire in the early 1980s. The JBS Program provides talented students of color from underserved communities an opportunity to develop and improve the skills necessary for college success through coursework and tutorial support for one transitional year, after which Baldwin scholars may apply for full matriculation to Hampshire or any other four-year college program.

In 2005 the USPS created a First-Class Postage Stamp dedicated to him which featured him on the front, and on the back of the peeling paper had a short biography. One of Baldwin's richest short stories, "Sonny's Blues," appears in many anthologies of short fiction used in introductory college literature classes.


* "Go Tell It on the Mountain" (semi-autobiographical novel; 1953)
* "The Amen Corner" (play; 1954)
* "Notes of a Native Son" (1955)
* "Giovanni's Room" (novel; 1956)
* "" (essays; 1961)
* "Another Country" (novel; 1962)
* "A Talk to Teachers" (essay; 1963)
* "The Fire Next Time" (essays; 1963)
* "Blues for Mister Charlie" (play; 1964)
* "Going to Meet the Man" (stories; 1965) published in the UK by Michael Joseph, dustjacket designed by David Battle.
* "Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone" (novel; 1968)
* "No Name in the Street" (essays; 1972)
* "If Beale Street Could Talk" (novel; 1974)
* "The Devil Finds Work" (essays; 1976)
* "Just Above My Head" (novel; 1979)
* "Jimmy's Blues" (poems; 1983)
* "The Evidence of Things Not Seen" (essays; 1985)
* "The Price of the Ticket" (essays; 1985)
* "Harlem Quartet" (novel; 1987)

Together with others:
* "Nothing Personal (with Richard Avedon (photogr.))" (1964)
* "A Rap on Race (with Margaret Mead)" (1971)
* "One day when I was lost" (orig.: A. Haley; 1972)
* "A Dialogue (with Nikki Giovanni)" (1973)
* "" (with Yoran Cazac, 1976)


Published as

* "Early Novels & Stories: Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni's Room, Another Country, Going to Meet the Man" (Toni Morrison, ed.) (Library of America, 1998) ISBN 978-1-88301151-2.
* "Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street, The Devil Finds Work, Other Essays" (Toni Morrison, ed.) (Library of America, 1998) ISBN 978-1-88301152-9

External links

* Gwin, Minrose. " [http://www.southernspaces.org/contents/2008/gwin/1a.htm Mourning Medgar: Justice, Aesthetics, and the Local] " March 11, 2008. "Southern Spaces"
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1420 James Baldwin at Find a Grave]
*worldcat id|id=lccn-n79-76619
* [http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/baldwin.htm Comprehensive Resource of James Baldwin Information]
* [http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0049&s=James%20Baldwin James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket] distributed by California Newsreel
* [http://historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/itcitmbaldwin.html "An Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Y. Davis" by James Baldwin]
* [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/baldwin_j.html Baldwin's "American Masters" page]
* [http://www.americanwriters.org/writers/baldwin.asp Baldwin's C-Span page on American Writers]
* [http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=229 Baldwin in the Literary Encyclopedia]
* [http://dpg.lib.berkeley.edu/webdb/mrc/search_vod.pl?avr=1 Audio files of speeches and interviews at UC Berkeley]
* [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/videodir/asx2/2299.asx Video: Baldwin debate with William F. Buckley (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center)]
* [http://books.guardian.co.uk/authors/author/0,5917,-204,00.html Guardian Books "Author Page"] , with profile and links to further articles
* [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/mlk/sfeature/sf_video_pop_04_tr_qry.html Transcript of interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark]

NAME= Baldwin, James
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Baldwin, James Arthur
SHORT DESCRIPTION= American writer, novelist
DATE OF BIRTH= August 2, 1924
PLACE OF Birth= New York, New York, United States
DATE OF DEATH= 1987-11-30
PLACE OF DEATH= Saint-Paul de Vence, France

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • James Baldwin — may refer to:*James Baldwin (editor and author) (1841 ndash;1925) *James Baldwin (writer) (1924 ndash;1987) *James Baldwin (baseball) (born 1971) *J. Baldwin (born 1934), industrial designer, author, educator *James Mark Baldwin (1861 ndash;1934) …   Wikipedia

  • James Baldwin — noun United States author who was an outspoken critic of racism (1924 1987) • Syn: ↑Baldwin, ↑James Arthur Baldwin • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author * * * James Baldwin …   Useful english dictionary

  • James Baldwin — (1924 1987) African American writer and civil rights activist, author of The Fire Next Time and Another Country …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Baldwin (surname) — The name Baldwin is of English origin, from the Old English Bealdwine , or the Old German equivalent Baldavin , meaning bold friend . It was frequently used in medieval Britain as a surname.Real people* Abraham Baldwin (1754–1807), American… …   Wikipedia

  • Baldwin — noun 1. United States author who was an outspoken critic of racism (1924 1987) • Syn: ↑James Baldwin, ↑James Arthur Baldwin • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author 2. English statesman; member of the Conservative Party (1867 1947) …   Useful english dictionary

  • James Arthur Baldwin — noun United States author who was an outspoken critic of racism (1924 1987) • Syn: ↑Baldwin, ↑James Baldwin • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author …   Useful english dictionary

  • Baldwin, James (Arthur) — born Aug. 2, 1924, New York, N.Y., U.S. died Dec. 1, 1987, Saint Paul, France U.S. essayist, novelist, and playwright. He grew up in poverty in the New York City district of Harlem and became a preacher while in his teens. After 1948 he lived… …   Universalium

  • Baldwin — n. species of apple grown especially in Northeastern USA; James Baldwin (1924 1987), African American writer and civil rights activist, author of The Fire Next Time and Another Country ; family name …   English contemporary dictionary

  • James Tait Black Memorial Prize — Fondé en 1919, le James Tait Black Memorial Prize est l un des plus importants prix littéraires britanniques. Chaque année, il récompense des auteurs écrivant en langue anglaise et se divise en deux catégories : la fiction et la biographie.… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Baldwin,James Arthur — Baldwin, James Arthur. 1924 1987. American writer and outspoken critic of racism whose works include Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), a novel, and Notes of a Native Son (1955), a collection of essays. * * * …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”