James Arthur Baldwin was born in Harlem on August 2nd, 1924 and grew to become one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, particularly in the areas of civil rights and the black experience in America. The oldest of nine children, he was raised in poverty by his mother and his strict stepfather, a factory worker and storefront preacher. As a child, Baldwin was an avid reader and spent much of his time in the library, developing a passion for writing at an early age. By the time he was twelve, his first story had been published in a church newspaper. As a young adult, Baldwin spent several years as a preacher, an experience which he later recognized had a profound effect on the style and tone of his writing. He had a difficult time starting out as a writer at first, and worked several odd jobs before receiving a grant and leaving for Paris in 1948. From this point on, he would become a constant traveller, moving between Paris, Istanbul, New York, and many other cities of the world.
While in Switzerland, Baldwin finished his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, which was published in 1953. The novel was an autobiographical story about his upbringing in Harlem and gained much critical acclaim, becoming one of the classic novels of American literature. After this, Baldwin went on to publish many more popular works, including Notes of a Native Son (1955), Giovanni's Room (1956), and The Fire Next Time (1963). His work often dealt with controversial topics such as homosexuality and interracial relationships. In the 1960s, Baldwin became a prominent figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. Taking a pacifist approach, Baldwin used his writing to shed light on the racial problems in the United States. Although he spent much of his time abroad, Baldwin's writing is undoubtedly American in essence, and provides an indispensable contribution to American literature.
Ana MeiLi Carling, EVHP Staff