James Baldwin

Photograph of James Baldwin.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives

James Baldwin

1924 - 1987


A novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright, Harlem native James Baldwin was an iconic, articulate literary voice and a civil rights activist who wrote candidly about race and homosexuality in America.

Baldwin, the grandson of a slave, grew up in a large, religious family, and took odd jobs after his high school graduation. He became a full-time writer when he moved to France in 1948. 

Baldwin embraced his sexual identity as an individual and without labels. He brought LGBTQ themes to the forefront in 1956 when he released Giovanni’s Room, a novel about the narrator’s internal conflict regarding his relationships with other men. It was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 1957.

Baldwin is remembered as a voice for equality, and is remembered for such works as Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Notes of a Native Son (1955), and The Fire Next Time (1963).