Monday, April 28, 2014


A recent article in the New York Times lamented how the American author James Baldwin was not read as much he was in the past, particularly in schools. Baldwin was an African American novelist, playwright and essayist. Born in 1924, he grew up in Harlem and experienced the difficulties of being Black in an America that was segregated. Race informs his work, as does the fact that Baldwin was gay. As a teenager he started meeting artists and intellectuals in Greenwich Village and he realized he could be a writer. Baldwin moved to Paris, where his writing career began and he spent most of his life. He died in 1987.

The Monrovia Public Library owns many of James Baldwin’s works. Baldwin lived in a certain time in American history and took his inspiration from what he saw and experienced. This is a great time to re-read him or discover his work for the first time.

His first play was The Amen Corner, about an African American church and the pastor’s family who served it. The play, Blues for Mister Charlie, took its inspiration from the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.

One of Baldwin’s best known essay collections is The Fire Next Time, written in 1963. It implores all Americans to challenge racism. Although some thought it incendiary, it sparked discussions about what was needed to ramp up the civil rights movement.  

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone is a novel about an actor whose heart attack causes him to contemplate his own being and his place in the world. The novel Another Country takes place in the cities Baldwin personally knew best and challenges the reader to think about how people can define themselves and don’t always have to be defined by race, gender and orientation.

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