The Day by Day History of the
Novelist, Essayist, and Playwright James Baldwin Was Born
August 2, 1924
"He turned back to the window, looking out.
'All that hatred down there,' he said, 'all that hatred and
misery and love. It's a wonder it doesn't blow the avenue
apart.'" So says Sonny in Sonny's Blues, a short story by
novelist, essayist, and playwright James Baldwin. Baldwin had a
terrific gift for showing us human emotion.
eldest of nine children on August 2, 1924, James Baldwin grew up
in the poverty of Harlem, New York. He went on to become a major
figure in both American literature and the civil rights
movement. Have you or your family read any of his books?
Baldwin wrote his first and most famous novel, Go Tell It on
the Mountain published in 1953, about one day in the lives of
members of a Harlem church. It was inspired by his experience as
a young preacher. Following in his father's footsteps, Baldwin
stepped onto the pulpit when he was only 14 years old. About
this time, Baldwin met a famous poet named Countee Cullen.
Cullen was Baldwin's middle school French teacher. We all have
people in our lives that help us somehow get to the places we
want to go. Cullen, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance (African
American expression through the arts), did this for James
Cullen opened up a new world of literary and
artistic possibilities for Baldwin and other black youths in
Harlem, dedicating the last years of his life to the education
of children. The French that Cullen taught Baldwin to speak came
in handy too. Baldwin moved to Paris in 1948 and there wrote
more famous works such as the essay collection Notes of a Native
Son in 1955 in which he argued against being classified as a
"Negro writer." He "commuted" between France and the U.S. the
rest of his life, exploring issues of race and identity in his
writing. Baldwin found writing to be a meaningful way to explore
and share ideas. Try it. What ideas will you explore?