“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin
About James Baldwin
James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America. Some Baldwin essays are book-length, for instance The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded upon and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award nominated documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro.
Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration not only of black people, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalized obstacles to such individuals’ quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.
His stepfather died of tuberculosis in summer of 1943 just before Baldwin turned 19. The day of the funeral was Baldwin’s 19th birthday, the day his father’s last child was born, and the day of the Harlem Riot of 1943, which was portrayed at the beginning of his essay “Notes of a Native Son”. The quest to answer or explain family and social rejection—and attain a sense of selfhood, both coherent and benevolent—became a consistent theme in Baldwin’s writing.
Baldwin’s first published work, a review of the writer Maxim Gorky, appeared in The Nation in 1947. He continued to publish in that magazine at various times in his career, and was serving on its editorial board at his death in 1987.
Disillusioned by American prejudice against blacks, he left the United States at the age of 24 and settled in Paris, France. He wanted to distance himself from American prejudice and see himself and his writing outside an African-American context. Baldwin did not want to be read as “merely a Negro; or, even, merely a Negro writer”. He also hoped to come to terms with his sexual ambivalence and escape the hopelessness that many young African-American men like himself succumbed to in New York.
In Paris, Baldwin was soon involved in the cultural radicalism of the Left Bank. He started to publish his work in literary anthologies, notably Zero, which was edited by his friend Themistocles Hoetis and which had already published essays by Richard Wright.
He lived in France for most of his later life. He would also spend some time in Switzerland and Turkey. During his life and after it, Baldwin was seen not only as an influential African-American writer but also as an influential exile writer, particularly because of his numerous experiences outside the United States and the impact of these experiences on Baldwin’s life and his writing.
Early on December 1, 1987, (some sources say late on November 30) Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.
(Source – Wikipedia)