James Baldwin

(1924-1987) American novelist and essayist. Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, about the religious awakening of a fourteen-year-old black youth, was based closely on Baldwin’s own experience as a young storefront preacher in Harlem. His subsequent novels, including Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962), Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968) and If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), are movingly written accounts of emotional and sexual suffering and growth, often played out against the background of social intolerance toward freely expressed sexuality (particularly homosexuality) as well as racism. Baldwin was a distinguished essayist whose nonfiction works include Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time, all passionately angry indictments of an American society that institutionalizes race discrimination. In his own protest against inhumane conditions, Baldwin left the U.S. at twenty-four to live in France, where most of his work was written; he returned to America in 1977. He also wrote plays, such as The Amen Corner (1955), Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), and One Day, When I Was Lost (1973), a script based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Baldwin’s sixth novel, Just Above My Head (1979), is a thirty-year saga of a group of Harlem friends whose individual odysseys through wars, poverty, and the civil rights struggle bring them to various fates. In 1985 he published The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-Fiction, 1948-1985, and in 1986, Evidence of Things Not Seen, an analysis of racism in the light of the Atlanta murders of black children.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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