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"The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world's definitions."

Portrait of James Baldwin

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(need audio from CDs 582, 552, 080, 029, 537, 552, 555, 350)

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James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin was born in Harlem, Aug. 2, 1924 and died on Nov. 30, 1987. He offered a vital literary voice during the Civil Rights Era in the 1950s and '60s. He was the eldest of nine children, and his stepfather was a minister. At age 14, Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem.

After he graduated from high school, he moved to Greenwich Village. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), is a partial autobiographical account of his youth. His essay collections were essential to a developing critique of US racism.

Baldwin left New York for France in the fall of 1948. As an African American and openly gay man, Baldwin sought to leave the racism and homophobia he felt in the US. He moved to France where he remained until his death.

His novels include Giovanni's Room (1956), about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Notes of a Native Son (1955), a novel about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. Dealing with taboo themes in both books (homosexuality and interracial relationships, respectively), Baldwin was creating socially relevant and psychologically penetrating literature. Baldwin became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

From the James Baldwin history page at UIC.

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