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James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time and Another Country.
James Baldwin - Later Years (1:45)
As a child, James Baldwin was teased and insulted not only from people within his community, but from his own father as well.
After writing about a variety of controversial issues and making his voice heard through several publications, James Baldwin.
James Baldwin embraced his homosexuality and brought up the topic of sexual orientation in his writings during the mid 20th century, specifically in the novel Giovanni's Room.
James Baldwin's written works made him an important spokesman of the Civil Rights Movement. His essays explored the black experience in America and his novel,"Giovanni's Room," was one of the first to tackle homosexuality.
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I must deal with both," Baldwin once told The New York Times. The move marked the beginning of his life as a "transatlantic commuter," dividing his time between France and the United States.
Baldwin had his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953. The loosely autobiographical tale focused on the life of a young man growing up in Harlem grappling with father issues and his religion. "Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else. I had to deal with what hurt me most. I had to deal, above all, with my father," he later said.
In 1954, Baldwin received a Guggenheim fellowship. He published his next novel, Giovanni's Room, the following year. The work told the story of an American living in Paris, and broke new ground for its complex depiction of homosexuality, a then-taboo subject. He also explored interracial relationships in his novels, another controversial topic for the times.
Around this time, Baldwin explored writing for the stage. He wrote The Amen Corner, which looked at the phenomenon of storefront Pentecostal religion. The play was produced at Howard University in 1955, and later on Broadway in the mid-1960s.
It was his essays, however, that helped establish Baldwin as one of the top writers of the times. Delving into his own life, he provided an unflinching look at the black experience in America through such works as Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961). Nobody Knows My Name hit the best-sellers list, selling more than a million copies. While not a marching or sit-in style activist, Baldwin emerged as one of the leading voices in the civil rights movement for his compelling work on race.
In 1963, there was a noted change in Baldwin's work with The Fire Next Time. This collection of essays was meant to educate white Americans on what it meant to be black. It also offered white readers a view of themselves through the eyes of the African-American community. In the work, Baldwin offered a brutally realistic picture of race relations, but he remained hopeful about possible improvements. "If we...do not falter in our duty now, we may be able...to end the racial nightmare." His words struck a cord with the American people, and The Fire Next Time sold more than a million copies.
That same year, Baldwin was featured on the cover of Time magazine. "There is not another writer—white or black—who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South,"Time said in the feature.
Baldwin wrote another play, Blues for Mister Charlie, which debuted on Broadway in 1964. The drama was loosely based on the 1955 racially motivated murder of a young African-American boy named Emmett Till. This same year, his book with friend Richard Avalon, entitled Nothing Personal, hit bookstore shelves. The work was a tribute to slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
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