James Baldwin (writer)

From Academic Kids

James Baldwin, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955
James Baldwin, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

James Baldwin (August 2, 1924 - December 1, 1987) was an African-American novelist and essayist, probably best known for his novel Go Tell it on the Mountain.


Life and Career

Most of Baldwin's work deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. His work is notable for the deeply personal - even courageous - way in which he explores questions of identity and meaning. His novels mime all the complex, social and psychological pressures related to being both black and homosexual at a time well before the social, cultural or political equality of these groups could be assumed.

Baldwin's stepfather, David Baldwin, was a factory worker and a store-front preacher; James was the first of nine children. David was a very cruel person at home, which the young James hated. His father opposed the young Baldwin's literary aspirations but he found support from a very nice white teacher as well as the mayor of New York City Fiorello H. LaGuardia. His most important support came from his idol Richard Wright, whom he had called "the greatest black writer in the world for me". Wright helped him to secure the Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Award. Wright and Baldwin became friends for a short time, and Baldwin titled a collection of essays Notes of a Native Son, in clear reference to Wright's enraged and despairing novel Native Son. However, Baldwin's essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" in 1949 ended the two authors' friendship because Baldwin asserted that Wright's novel Native Son like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin lacked credible characters and psychological complexity.

Baldwin, like many American authors of the time, left to live in Europe for an extended period of time beginning in 1948. His first destination was Paris where he followed in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, and many others.

When Baldwin returned to America, he became actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. to Washington D.C.


  • "The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side."
  • "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
  • "All of Africa will be free before we can get a lousy cup of coffee."

Selected works

Missing image
Cover of a Knopf edition of Go Tell it on the Mountain

See also

External links

fr:James Baldwin it:James Baldwin nl:James Baldwin pl:James Baldwin


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