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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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Baldwin also published a collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man, around this time.
In his 1968 novel Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, Baldwin returned to popular themes—sexuality, family, and the black experience. Some critics panned the novel, calling it a polemic than a novel. He was also criticized for using the first-person singular, the "I," for the book's narration.
By the early 1970s, Baldwin seemed to despair over the racial situation. He witnessed so much violence in the previous decade—especially the assassinations of Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—because of racial hatred. This disillusionment became apparent in his work, employing a more strident tone than in earlier works. Many critics point to No Name in the Street, a 1972 collection of essays, as the beginning of the change in Baldwin's work. He also worked on a screenplay around this time, trying to adapt The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley for the big screen.
While his literary fame faded somewhat in his later years, Baldwin continued to produce new works in a variety of forms. He published a collection of poems, Jimmy's Blues: Selected Poems, in 1983 as well as the 1987 novel Harlem Quartet. Baldwin also remained an astute observer of race and American culture. In 1985, he wrote The Evidence of Things Not Seen about the Atlanta child murders. Baldwin also spent years sharing his experiences and views as a college professor. In the years before his death, he taught at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College.
Baldwin died on December 1, 1987, at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France. Never wanting to be a spokesperson or a leader, Baldwin saw his personal mission as bearing "witness to the truth." He accomplished this mission through his extensive body of work.
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