Baldwin, James

Baldwin, James, 1924–87, American author, b. New York City. He spent an impoverished boyhood in Harlem, became a Pentecostal preacher at 14, and left the church three years later. He moved to Paris in 1947 and while living there wrote his first two novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), reflecting his experience as a young preacher, and Giovanni's Room (1956), which dealt with his homosexuality, as well as the intensely personal, racially charged essay collection Notes of a Native Son (1955). Baldwin returned to the United States in 1957 and participated in the civil-rights movement, later returning to France, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Another Country (1962), a bitter novel about sexual relations and racial tension, received critical acclaim, as did the perceptive essays in what is probably his most celebrated book, The Fire Next Time (1963). His eloquence and unsparing honesty made Baldwin one of the most influential authors of his time. Other works include the play Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964); a volume of short stories, Going to Meet the Man (1964); and the novels If Beale Street Could Talk (1974, film 2018), the story of a young black couple victimized by the judicial system, and Just above My Head (1979). Collections of essays include Nobody Knows My Name (1961), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Price of a Ticket (1985). Little Man, Little Man (1976) a picture book for young readers (and adults) about a boy growing up in Harlem, was reissued in 2018 to wide acclaim.

See his collected essays (1998) and uncollected writings (2010); interviews in James Baldwin: The Legacy (1989, ed. by Q. Troupe) and Conversations with James Baldwin (1989, ed. by F. L. Standley and L. H. Pratt); biographies by W. J. Wetherby (1989), J. Campbell (1991), D. Leeming (1994), and D. Field (2015); studies by L. H. Pratt (1985), H. A. Porter (1989), D. A. McBride, ed. (1999), D. Q. Miller (2000), L. O. Scott (2002), H. Bloom, ed. (2006), D. Field, ed. (2009), and M. J. Zaborowska (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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