Today marks the 93rd birthday of James Baldwin. The late author, who was born in New York in 1924, is considered by many to have been one of most influential African American writers and a major voice of the Civil Rights Movement. His writing, which explored subjects of race and sexuality, included acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. Among his most critically praised literary contributions were the novels Go Tell it on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and Another Country, as well as the book of essays, “Notes of a Native Son.”
While considered to be an influential American literary voice, Baldwin lived the majority of his adult life in France. A gay, Black man from a conservative Christian family, Baldwin became frustrated by the racism and prejudice he saw entrenched in American society. His dissatisfaction with this system of inequality would greatly affect his literary works. Baldwin’s writing is known for its courage in tackling themes of racism, sexuality, and religion—topics that were considered sensitive for mid-century America.
His first novel, the semi-autobiographical Go Tell it on the Mountain, is respected by readers and critics alike for its thoughtful examination of religion and racism in America. Baldwin’s follow up novel Giovanni’s Room created controversy because of its depiction of a homosexual relationship between two men. Baldwin was allegedly told by one publisher to burn it, but upon its release, the book received praise literary critics.
Upon his death from stomach cancer in 1987, Baldwin’s legacy was commemorated by both writers and civil rights activists.
“He was a great advocate of personal and racial freedom,” Reverend Jesse Jackson told the Associated Press. “He was one of the giants."
Baldwin’s work still has a significant impact on contemporary artists. The 2016 Civil Rights documentary I’m Not Your Negro is based on Baldwin’s unfinished memoir “Remember this House” and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017. Also, Moonlight Director Barry Jenkins credited Baldwin as a great influenced his Oscar-winning film. Jenkins plans to follow Moonlight with an adaption of Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.
Baldwin was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.