My dear readers and thinkers and all lovers of books and literature and all men and women of all thoughts, ideas and opinions, I bid you and ask you to join with me in another voyage of intellectual discovery. I welcome you in this quest and task of attaining and coming to know intellectual honesty and honest discernment. Join with me in this voyage of discovery to get at and find what is valid and authentic in this present world of confusion. I invite you to tear apart the curtain of lies and darkness that hides from us what is truth and facts.
Today I have the privilege and honor or speaking of and presenting the life and works of one of our greatest American authors, the author of many literary treasures of the world, books once begun cannot be put down and once read through engage our minds, spirits and souls as few works of prose can and do.
I am a great fan, as many of you may know, of English and American literature, both poets such as Coleridge, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning, Keats, Shelley and T.S. Eliot, and such novelists as Melville, Dickens, Conrad, Jane Austen, Kipling, and many others. When I read these great writers, my mind and consciousness are raised to a different level and I acquire in reading and knowing these authors a different level of understanding. In coming to know them, I am lifted up intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I have never and will never regret the time I have spent reading them and being exposed to them and absorbing their greatness, despite our American society telling us on a constant basis that time spent with them has no practical value as producing no income. A life without this great literature is a life cheated and wasted of what these greatest of minds have to offer us.
James Baldwin was born in 1924 and died in 1987. He was an American novelist, essayist, poet and activist. His essays include those in a collection entitled Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955, and in the book The Fire Next Time, and others. His second novel, Giovanni’s Room, was written in 1956.
Baldwin was born in Harlem, NY. He attended PS 24 in Harlem as well as junior high and Dewitt Clinton High School. Baldwin was involved with the Pentecostal church at the age of 14 but left the church at the age of 17. While working odd jobs he wrote short stories, essays and book reviews. He left the United States at the age of 24 to settle in Paris. He lived in France for most of his later life, and he also lived in Switzerland. Baldwin settled in the south of France and had many friends and learned to speak French. He wrote his last work in his house in the south of France. He died in 1987 and a court battle followed over the ownership of his house.
His first published work appeared in the US in 1947, a review of the writer Maxim Gorky. His first novel was published in 1953, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and his first collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, appeared two years later. His second novel, Giovanni’s Room, was published in 1956. His third and fourth novels were published in 1962 and 1968, Another Country, and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone. The Fire Next Time was published in 1963. His writing of the 1970s and eighties have been largely overlooked by critics. He returned to the United States in 1957 and became involved in the civil rights movement. Baldwin was a friend of Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. He died in 1987 of stomach cancer in France.
Baldwin’s work has been well received by the critics and he has influenced other writers. He received many honors and awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954, MacDowell Fellowships in 1954, 1956 and 1960 and the Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur in 1986.
For me, James Baldwin is a pioneer and innovator and is an inspiration to all the African-American community. With little or no advantages, he hewed out a career when African-Americans were still discriminated against, as were homosexual men, of which he was one. His courage and greatness are undeniable and his person stands astride all centuries and all time. He can be found in the Library of America and I ask you all buy his work found in the Library of America, a testimony to his greatness.
His prose is there, along with Melville and Hawthorne, because and by reason of his intrinsic greatness, which is and was recognized.
I acknowledge my debt for this essay to the article in Wikipedia on this author.