“The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.” – James Baldwin
Writer and playwright James Baldwin, born in Harlem, NY, on this date in 1924, started writing in elementary school and ultimately became one of the 20th century's greatest writers. Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works, led by his semi-autobiographical novels Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son.
Beyond his many successful novels, he was feted for his ongoing series of essays on the Black experience in America, which he wrote right up until his death in 1987. Some of his essays – like The Fire Next Time and No Name in the Street – are book-length. Last year, his unfinished final essay, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for the Academy Award-nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro.
Baldwin’s passion for writing grew out of an equally devout passion as a reader, something he started at age 3. By the time he was in high school, he was working on the school magazine and had numerous poems, short stories and plays published there, often illustrated with photos by classmate and future Hall-of-Fame photographer Richard Avedon.
In a recent essay for the Los Angeles Times, Scott Timberg wrote of Baldwin’s continuing impact on all writers and writing: "… Baldwin is not just a writer for the ages,” he said, “but a scribe whose work — as squarely as George Orwell’s — speaks directly to ours."