James Baldwin

(August 2nd, 1924 — December 1st, 1987)

James Arthur Baldwin was an American essayist, author, and activist.

Born in Harlem, New York, Baldwin was the oldest of nine children. His stepfather worked as a Baptist preacher, and much of his early life was intertwined with the church. He had a brief religious fervour during his teenage years, as part of his struggle with identifying as gay.

At nineteen, his stepfather died and he left school to work to support his family. He took several menial jobs that emphasized his alienation with other workers and eventually led to a nervous breakdown. His friendship with Beauford Delaney helped him recover and find his place as a writer.

Baldwin was an activist; his writing and his life focused on the issues of Black rights in America. He knew Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X and Medgar Evans, and was at the forefront of academic thought on the issues of racism. Though he was not given much critical attention during his career — thought to be a product of homophobia at the time — he is now considered to be a major influence.

Most of his life, he lived between France and America. At the end of his life, he suffered from stomach cancer.

Baldwin passed away in France. He was buried in New York.

James Baldwin is a book author.

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I Am Not Your Negro and Nothing Personal

Contemporary 21st Century

We happened across Raoul Peck’s film I Am Not Your Negro one February night while flipping through the channels. TVO was airing it as part of its yearly Black History Month’s selections. It’s a film that I would not hesitate to name as essential, and it’s what was responsible for my introduction to James Baldwin’s work.