James Baldwin was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, and one of America’s foremost writers. Baldwin — the grandson of a slave — was born in Harlem in 1924. The oldest of nine children, he grew up in poverty, developing a troubled relationship with his strict, religious stepfather. Following this father, Baldwin was a preacher for three years starting at age 14. In 1942 he moved to New Jersey to begin working as a railroad hand. In 1944 he moved to Greenwich Village where he met Richard Wright and began writing his first novel, In My Father’s House. In 1948, at age 24, Baldwin left for Paris, partly to escape racism and homophobia in the United States. Over the next ten years, Baldwin moved from Paris to New York to Istanbul, writing two books of essays, as well as two novels. His first important novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, an autobiographical work about growing up in Harlem, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews, and his essay collections, Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, were bestsellers that made him an influential figure in the growing civil rights movement. As an openly gay man, he also became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people. Even though Baldwin had encapsulated much of the anger of the times in his books, he always remained a constant advocate for universal love and brotherhood. During the last ten years of his life, he produced a number of important works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He also turned to teaching as a new way of connecting with the young. By 1987, when he died of stomach cancer at age 63, James Baldwin had become one of the most important and vocal advocates for equality.
*Image: Allen Warren