© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 10: James Baldwin (1924-1987)
Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |
| A Brief Biography |
Site Links: | Chap. 10: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 3, 2011
Source: Random House
Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953; Notes of a Native Son, 1955; Giovanni's Room, 1956; Nobody Knows My Name, 1961; Another Country, 1962; The Fire Next Time, 1963; Blues for Mister Charlie (play); Nothing Personal (with Richard Avedon), 1964; Going to Meet the Man, 1965; The Amer Corner (play), 1968; Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, 1968; A Rap on Race (with Margaret Mead), 1971; No Name in the Street, 1972; A Dialogue (with poet Nikki Giovanni), 1973; If Beale Street Could Talk, 1974; The Devil Finds Work, 1976; Just Above My Head, 1979; The Evidence of Things Not Seen, 1985.
Early Novels and Stories: Go Tell It on the Mountain; Giovanni's Room; Another Country; Going to Meet the Man. Morrison, Toni (ed.). NY: Library of America, 1998.
Awards and other honors
Eugene Saxton Fellowship, 1944; Rosen Fellowship, 1948; Guggenheim Fellowship, 1954; Partisan Review Fellowship, 1956; National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, 1956; Ford Foundation Grant, 1959; Certificate of recognition from the National Conference on Christians and Jews, 1961; George Polk Memorial Award, 1963.
Selected Bibliography 1980-Present
Blair, Sara. Harlem Crossroads: Black Writers and the Photograph in the Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007.
Bobia, Rosa. The Critical Reception of James Baldwin in France. NY: Peter Lang, 1997.
Boyd, Herb. Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin. NY: Atria, 2008.
Burt, Nancy V. and Fred L. Standley. eds. Critical essays on James Baldwin. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1988.
Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates; a life of James Baldwin. NY: Penguin Books, 1991.
- - -. Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, and Others on the Left Bank. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.
- - -. Syncopations: Beats, New Yorkers, and Writers in the Dark. Berkeley: U of California P, 2008.
Clark, Keith. Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines and August Wilson. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2002.
Gerstner, David A. Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2011.
Hardy, Clarence E., III James Baldwin's God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2003.
Harris, Trudier. Black women in the fiction of James Baldwin. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1985. PS3552 .A45 Z69
Johnson-Roullier, Cyraina E. Reading on the Edge: Exiles, Modernities, and Cultural Transformation in Proust, Joyce, and Baldwin. Albany: State U of New York P, 2000.
Kenan, Randall. ed. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings. NY: Pantheon, 2010.
Leeming, David A. James Baldwin a biography. NY: Knopf, 1994. PS3552 .A45 Z77 1994
Margolies, Edward. New York and the Literary Imagination: The City in Twentieth Century Fiction and Drama. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.
Murray, Rolland. Our Living Manhood: Literature, Black Power, and Masculine Ideology. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2007.
Muyumba, Walton M. The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009.
Norman, Brian. The American Protest Essay and National Belonging: Addressing Division. Albany: State U of New York P, 2007.
Porter, Horace. Stealing the Fire The Art and Protest of James Baldwin. 1989.
Reid-Pharr, Robert. Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual. NY: New York UP, 2007.
Relyea, Sarah. Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin. NY: Routledge, 2006.
Rosset, Lisa. James Baldwin. NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
Scott, Lynn O. James Baldwin's Later Fiction: Witness to the Journey. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2002.
Standley, Fred, and Louis H. Pratt. eds. Conversations with James Baldwin. 1989.
Washington, Byran R. Politics of Exile: Ideology in Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Baldwin. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1995.
Zaborowska, Magdalena J. James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2009.
| Top |James Baldwin (1924-1987): A Brief Biography
In 1927 Berdis Jones, when James was three, married David Baldwin, approximately forty-five years her senior, a man who Baldwin believed to be his biological father until his mid-teens. The senior Baldwin was a laborer and a preacher who had fled New Orleans primarily because he deemed it “a new-world Sodom and Gomorrah,” (Campbell 4) but ultimately because he could not socially adjust. Despite providing young “Jimmy” with an adoption and surname, David Baldwin was cruel to the family, and amplified the already claustrophobic, nightmarish ghettoworld with his religious fanaticism and unwaning ramblings on of the injustice (and his hatred) of the white man. James recalls the terms on which the struggle for survival in the ghetto must depend in that “the nature of the ghetto is somehow ultimately to make those skills which are immoral the only skills worth having. You haven’t got to be sweet to survive in a ghetto; you’ve got to be cunning. You’ve got to make up the rules as you go along; there aren’t any others. You can’t call the cops.” (Pratt 15)
In Talking at the
Gates- A Life of James Baldwin, Baldwin remembers his
father “locked-up in his terrors; hating and fearing every
living soul including his children... his long silences punctuated by
moans and hallelujahs and snatches of old songs while he sat at the
kitchen window.” (Campbell 7) Despite his religious fervor, and
rightly due to his overall (and clinically diagnosed) madness common
to fanatics, the elder Baldwin hurled abuses in every form. He lived
the irony in yearning to be the king of his domain in keeping
repressive dominance of a submissive wife and children (Pratt 15),
yet held the motto of “As for me
passion for the written language was exemplified in his pre-teen
readings of Dickens, Dostoevsky and Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s Uncle
This was the start of
Baldwin’s writing career. He later attended DeWitt Clinton High
in the Bronx where he collaborated with fellow literati as Richard
Avedon (later a collaborator with Baldwin in 1964’s Nothing
Emile Capouya, who later became the literary editor of the
Simultaneously, Baldwin was having battles with his own faith and was advised by Capouya that it was cowardly to remain in the church simply because he was afraid to leave it. In response, Baldwin delivered his last sermon and never returned to the Assembly. It was Capouya who introduced Baldwin to Beauford Delaney in 1940. At the time, Delaney was already an established and well respected black painter in Greenwich Village, however, he was the first genuine black artist Baldwin had met. Their relationship in regards to the renaissance was as schoolmaster to pupil, but ultimately, Delaney found in Baldwin a loyal pupil and lifelong friend. In speaking to a group of women prisoners at Riker’s Island three decades later, Baldwin declared, “The most important person in my life was and is... Beauford Delaney.” (Campbell 20) That same year, Richard Wright’s The Native Son was published which was to be regarded in the literature as the first work of major significance during the Harlem Renaissance. It was the influence of these two men that opened the door for Baldwin, thusly catalyzing a turning point in his life. Delaney had personally exposed Baldwin to a more confident self in his way of living as a black man (contrary to the culture of David Baldwin), and Wright had given Baldwin the courage and esteem that he could persevere as a black writer.
After several odd jobs as a railroad worker for the army, a meat-packer and an elevator-boy, Baldwin met Richard Wright in 1944. Yet another teacher/pupil relationship was established and the two became friends. David Baldwin’s concurrent death had left Baldwin (now in upstate New York) as the sole breadwinner for his family, forcing him to take on several jobs at once. This made it hard for him to write. However, Baldwin was awarded five hundred dollars from the Eugene Saxton Fellowship on the recommendation of Wright. For a while he began to use the money he had left to frequent bars, sometimes becoming drunk or belligerent (or both), and always broke. A friend’s suicide, Eugene Worth in 1946, jolted him back to his senses, and caused him to address his questionable sexuality and ultimately is life’s purpose.
Living in Greenwich Village, he became friends with artist Theodore Pelatowski, who had worked with Baldwin’s old schoolfriend Richard Averton. The two collaborated on several artistic endeavors in photography and literature while Baldwin gained success as a reviewer for the Nation on a work entitled Mother by Maxim Gorki. This led to his position as a respected reviewer for The New Leader. Editors admired him because his reviews weren’t “colored by color.” (Campbell 40) The Commentary, edited by Elliot Cohen and Robert Warshow, picked up Baldwin as their reviewer and with the encouragement of Warshow, published “The Harlem Ghetto” in February of 1948. “Journey to Atlanta” and “Previous Condition” were published in October the same year, all the while working on what would be his masterpiece, Go Tell It On the Mountain. His work was becoming noticed due to its poignantly raw and realistic nature. Living in Greenwich Village and out with his homosexuality, Baldwin visited the Harlem ghetto less, and favored the Village little more. He was beginning to feel his individuality boil inside him and ultimately began to feel alienated from the Western world itself. Not only was Baldwin a black man in a society in which black was the less popular color, but resided in a country whose religious roots were so firmly planted in condemning the sexuality with which Baldwin was oriented. His alienation, both self-inflicted and societal, caused him to take the initiative to follow Wright and other “unordinary Negroes” to Europe.
|In Paris, Baldwin worked as a waiter in several restaurants while
trying to write. Because of his intelligence and charm he formed
numerous relationships with the Europeans as well as the intellectual
immigrants from the United States. Some were platonic, others
romantic, both involving men and women. He met up with his mentor,
Wright, and was introduced to Zero
magazine editor, Themistocles Hoetis, who published Baldwin’s “Everybody’s
Protest Novel” in spring of 1949. The article criticized
Uncle Tome’s Cabin
Balfour claims that Baldwin’s artistic consciousness involves the cultivation of a unique form of alienation (50). This alienation enables him to hold a mirror to a society unwilling to acknowledge the ugly social truths deemed “normal.” Not only was Baldwin a voice of the oppressed black man, along with the historical voices of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Richard Wright, but also joined the voices of Radclyffe Hall and E.M. Forster in tackling the point of view of the societal plights of the homosexual. Balfour asserts that “in dismissing fixed notions of male and female identity, Baldwin attacks the impulse to naturalize the divisions his society has created.” (53) That is to say, Baldwin addressed the fluidity in regards to one’s gender and the sexuality deemed appropriate for that specific physical gender. Baldwin hoped that this fluidity in sexuality could be correlated with the fluidity of race in regards to societal appropriateness.
Nearly all of Baldwin’s
literary and political endeavors following Go Tell It On the
In 1961 Nobody
Knows My Name
His discussions with
world-renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead appeared in "A Rap on
Race," and his commentaries appeared in No Name in the Street.
From 1974 to 1979, several novels were comprised: If Beale Street
Could Talk, The Devil Finds Work and
his longest novel Just Above My Head,
Through his works, he will be remembered not only as a voice of the oppressed black homosexual, but rather a voice celebrating the separate individual within every human being.
Balfour, Lawrie. The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of Democracy. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001.
Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin. NY: Penguin, 1991.
Pratt, Louis H. James Baldwin. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 10: James Baldwin." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap10/baldwin.html (provide page date or date of your login).