James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. His essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the Western society of the United States during the mid twentieth-century. Some of Baldwin's essays are book-length, including The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award–nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro (2016). One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into the Academy-Award-winning film of the same name in 2018, directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.Baldwin's novels, short stories, and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures. Themes of masculinity, sexuality, race, and class intertwine to create intricate narratives that run parallel with some of the major political movements toward social change in mid-twentieth-century America, such as the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. Baldwin's protagonists are often but not exclusively African American, while gay and bisexual men also frequently feature as protagonists in his literature. These characters often face internal and external obstacles in their search for social- and self-acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room, which was written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.
James Arthur Baldwin was born to Emma Berdis Jones who had left Baldwin's biological father because of his drug abuse. She moved to Harlem where Baldwin was born in Harlem Hospital in New York. Jones married a Baptist preacher, David Baldwin with whom she had eight children between 1927 and 1943. Her husband also had a son from a previous marriage who was nine years older than James. The family was poor, and Baldwin's stepfather, to whom he referred in essays as his father, treated him more harshly than his other children. His intelligence, combined with the persecution he endured in his stepfather's home, drove Baldwin to spend much of his time alone in libraries. By the time Baldwin had reached adolescence, he had discovered his passion for writing. His educators deemed him gifted, and in 1937, at the age of 13, he wrote his first article, titled "Harlem—Then and Now", which was published in his school's magazine, The Douglass Pilot.Baldwin spent much time caring for his several younger brothers and sisters. At the age of 10, he was teased and abused by two New York police officers, an instance of the racist harassment by the NYPD that he would experience again as a teenager and document in his essays. His stepfather died of tuberculosis in the summer of 1943, on the day his last child was born, just before Baldwin turned 19. Not only would the day of the funeral be Baldwin's 19th birthday, it would also be that of the Harlem riot of 1943, an event portrayed at the beginning of his "Notes of a Native Son" essay.
Movies & TV shows
i ran from it and was still in it
It was poetically interwoven with personal family memories and found footage to offer a more complex portrait of loss and separation. In order to explore how the autobiographical model can potentially...
Framed as a letter to his friend Eugene Worth, the film presents an elegiac loop inspired by James Baldwin's five suicide attempts.
De Cabral a George Floyd: Onde Arde o Fogo Sagrado da Liberdade
Through clippings, the film draws a narrative line between the construction of racism in Brazil and the United States, having as base the European invasion of the continent, police violence, the genoc...
2 Movies · 2 TV shows
If Beale Street Could Talk
A pregnant African-American woman sets out to clear his name after he was wrongly imprisoned.
The series explains some of the world's current trends, from politics to science to pop culture.
On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, one fearless black pioneer reconceived a Harlem Renaissance for a new era, bringing giants and rising stars of black American culture onto the national telev...
Bobby Kennedy for President
Historic footage and leading voices of the era examine the "Bobby Phenomenon" of the 1960s and the legacy of the man who helped redefine the country.
A Person Is More Important Than Anything Else
"A person is more important than anything else…," is driven by the cadence and intonation of James Baldwin’s voice, for Baldwin was also an orator whose delivery was almost as forceful as his ideas. ...
Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man
In 1951, George Whitman opened a bookshop-commune in Paris. George, 92, still runs his "den of anarchists disguised as a bookstore," offering free, dirty beds to poor literati, cutting his hair with a...
The James Baldwin Anthology
The James Baldwin Anthology consists of internationally known writer James Baldwin's historic speech at UC Berkeley in 1979, his answers in a dialogue with Malcom X in the ’60s, and series of original...
Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light
Actor/director Sidney Poitier discusses his life and career. He tells of his upbringing in Jamaica; the difficulties he encountered in New York City at the start of his career; his involvement in the ...
Where the Heart Is
The story of two working-class families is a fable from the director. Francois is wrongly accused of rape by a policeman. The story is narrated by his childhood friend, neighbor and the mother of his ...
The film utilizes the story-telling format to create a multilevel narrative that explores the relations between speech, language, and desire. Addresses issues of sexuality, subjectivity, tradition, an...
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket
James Baldwin was a major 20th century American author, a Civil Rights activist and, for two crucial decades, a prophetic voice calling Americans, black and white, to confront their shared racial trag...
The Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty has been a symbol of hope and refuge for immigrants for more than 100 years. In this compelling and provocative portrait of the statue, Ken Burns explores both the history of Ame...
Go Tell It on the Mountain
This film adaptation of James Baldwin's celebrated novel tells the journey of a family from the rural South to "big city" Harlem seeking both salvation and understanding and of a young boy struggling ...
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
James Baldwin retraces his time in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, reflecting with his trademark brilliance and insight on the passage of more than two decades. From Selma and Birmingham a...
James Baldwin: From Another Place
This short finds James Baldwin in Istanbul musing about race, the American fascination with sexuality, insights into his interrupted writing decade in the country, the generosity of the Turks, and how...
Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris
Jack Hazan photographed an extremely rare film document in several symbolic locations, including the Place de la Bastille. Things don't go to plan for him and the film crew when a couple of young blac...
King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis
A film about a doctor. reel footage and segments of recordings by Dr were presented in the form of Martin Luther King, Jr. Richard Kaplan and Ely Landau produced the movie.
1 Movie · 1 TV show
Debate: Baldwin vs. Buckley
The Cambridge Union Society debates the motion "Has the American Dream Been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?" on its 150th anniversary. David Heycock and James Baldwin argue the Affirmat...
Take This Hammer
Take This Hammer features KQED's mobile film unit following author and activist James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, as he's driven around San Francisco to meet with members of the local African Ameri...