Yes, reading Baldwin did indeed change me.
I remember well my encounter with American writer James Baldwin’s novels. A youngster, still in my early teens, reading Another Country, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and Giovanni’s Room represent watershed moments. I can’t remember which one I read first, but I remember holding the next book in my hands and opening the pages with excited anticipation: I felt as if holding a treasure in my hands. I was longing for new doors to be opened, knowing they would be.
Along with his collections of essays, Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, his two plays, The Amen Corner and Blues for Mister Charlie, as well as his collaboration with anthropoligist Margaret Mead, A Rap on Race, reading Baldwin changed me and, I dare say, into a better person. Baldwin’s writing broadened my horizon – they gave me a bigger picture of the state of the world and our multifaceted human condition.
Today a quote of James Baldwin’s came back to me, a quote I’ve been pondering since it suddenly popped into my mind this afternoon:
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Notes of a Native Son (1955)
It struck me ‘America’ could be exchanged with ‘Norway,’ or ‘my country’. Or ‘poltics’, or ‘my culture’. Or ‘my religion’ for that matter – yes, anything of essential importance to us kindling that passionate fire of being an inseparable part of me, of life itself.
I’d like to live in a free world, a world governed by mature leaders supporting life, leaders who are genuinely concerned with the welfare of all of us. Whenever that’s not the case, we have to speak up. That’s what reading Baldwin taught me.
Honors and awards
- Guggenheim Fellowship, 1954.
- Eugene F. Saxton Memorial Trust Award
- Foreign Drama Critics Award
- George Polk Memorial Award, 1963
- MacDowell fellowships: 1954, 1958, 1960
- Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur, 1986
- 1953. Go Tell It on the Mountain (semi-autobiographical)
- 1956. Giovanni’s Room
- 1962. Another Country
- 1968. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone
- 1974. If Beale Street Could Talk
- 1979. Just Above My Head
Essays and short stories
Many essays and short stories by Baldwin were published for the first time as part of collections (e.g. Notes of a Native Son). Others, however, were published individually at first and later included with Baldwin’s compilation books. Some essays and stories of Baldwin’s that were originally released on their own include:
- 1953. “Stranger in the Village.” Harper’s Magazine.
- 1954. “Gide as Husband and Homosexual.” The New Leader.
- 1956. “Faulkner and Desegregation.” Partisan Review.
- 1957. “Sonny’s Blues.” Partisan Review.
- 1957. “Princes and Powers.” Encounter.
- 1958. “The Hard Kind of Courage.” Harper’s Magazine.
- 1959. “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American,” The New York Times Book Review.
- 1959. “Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South.” Partisan Review.
- 1960. “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem.” Esquire.
- 1960. “The Precarious Vogue of Ingmar Bergman.” Esquire.
- 1961. “A Negro Assays the Negro Mood.” New York Times Magazine.
- 1961. “The Survival of Richard Wright.” Reporter.
- 1961. “Richard Wright.” Encounter.
- 1962. “Letter from a Region of My Mind.” The New Yorker.
- 1962. “My Dungeon Shook.” The Progressive.
- 1963. “A Talk to Teachers”
- 1967. “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” New York Times Magazine.
- 1976. The Devil Finds Work — a book-length essay published by Dial Press.
The portrait illustrating this post is of James Arthur Baldwin, born, August 2, 1924. Baldwin was an African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. He died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, on December 1, 1987, and was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City