James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American poet, author, playwright, and activist. His literary works challenged many of the social dynamics of his time and they are still doing so today. Baldwin’s 1955 collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, is considered by many to be among the pantheon of literary classics. He explores American and European race and class issues through a critical lens.
Written in 1956, Giovanni’s Room looks at issues of internal and external acceptance of its protagonist as he navigates same-gender loving relationships during a time well before the gay liberation movement against the backdrop of racism.  Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into a 2018 Academy Award-winning film directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.

Baldwin grew up in Harlem taking on the last name of his stepfather, a Baptist minister because his mother left his abusive, alcoholic biological father.  Baldwin recalls spending much time in libraries to escape the persecution at home that came as a backlash to his expressed intelligence and his parents’ need for him to constantly babysit his younger siblings. Still, Baldwin was undaunted as his love for writing led him to be published in the school’s newspaper. Harlem Renaissance luminary, Countee Cullen, was a major influence. Through the years, Baldwin went on to develop his writing through his experiences with religion, sexual orientation, social and political norms, civil rights, his emigration to France, and many other subjects he felt warranted discourse.  He was regarded by many as one of the most important voices of our time. Baldwin died from stomach cancer on December 1, 1987, and was buried in Hartsdale, New York.


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