Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Born in Harlem in 1924, Baldwin was the son of a domestic worker and a father he never knew. When Baldwin was three, his mother married a factory worker who was also a minister. At 14, Baldwin became a minister at a small church in Harlem. "Those three years in the pulpit -- I didn't realize it then -- that is what turned me into a writer, really, dealing with all that anguish and that despair and that beauty," he later wrote. Critics have often pointed to the influence of the church in his writing, both in his recurrent themes of redemption, and in his cadences and style.
An avid reader who published his first story in a church newspaper when he was 12, Baldwin left home at 17 and moved to Greenwich Village. His first novel, the partly autobiographical Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953 to great critical acclaim. The essay collections that followed -- Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1963), and The Fire Next Time (1963) -- made him known to a larger, white audience.
In 1948 Baldwin moved to France. "I left America," he wrote in 1959, "because I doubted my ability to survive the fury of the colour problem here ... I wanted to prevent myself from becoming merely a Negro; or even merely a Negro writer." In Paris, he was befriended by the writer Richard Wright, also an African American, and through him, Baldwin was introduced to the American expatriate arts community. He lived in the south of France for most of the rest of his life, although he returned regularly to the United States to lecture and teach. Though he was a "black writer" before the Civil Rights Movement and a "homosexual writer" before the Gay Rights Movement, Baldwin nonetheless saw himself as an American writer first and foremost. He died in 1987.
Works by the Author