A novelist and essayist of considerable renown, James Baldwin bore witness to the unhappy consequences of American racial strife. Tri-Quarterly contributor Robert A. Best-sellers such as Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time acquainted wide audiences with his highly personal observations and his sense of urgency in the face of rising black bitterness. Black people reading Baldwin knew he wrote the truth. White people reading Baldwin sensed his truth about the lives of black people and the sins of a racist nation.
I n the opening to his New Yorker essay Letter from a Region in My Mind , James Baldwin remembers walking around his neighbourhood of Harlem as a year-old, wondering if his fate would trap him there. Thirty years since he died of stomach cancer in , an expat in the south of France, there is reinvigorated interest in Baldwin and his ideas. Since then, there have been film festivals, exhibitions dedicated to Baldwin, and musical theatre inspired by his writing. As the Black Lives Matter protests unfolded around the US, there was a collection of writing — including an entry from the Pulitzer winner Isabel Wilkerson — which took inspiration from Baldwin. His work has been used to explain everything from Trump to Dylann Roof and the Charleston church shooting. It looked beyond the binary racial politics of s and 60s America, toward a future that could genuinely be called post-racial.
Harlem wasn't just a regular setting in the corpus of his work; it was more like a pantomime Greek Chorus. For Uncle Jimmy, Harlem was a unique holy ground of sacrificial sensibility. A familiar love, like the first bosom one knows, where the habitual bondage had no safe words -- he had to leave. Like most of God's creatures, the first woman he loved was his mother. Grandma Berdis was an oracle and the purest source of love I've ever known.
The new year is all about breaking old, bad habits and establish new, healthier ones. The book was met with a storm of controversy when it was first published in , but it has since gone on to be considered a time-honored classic in gay literature. Years after its publication, Baldwin revealed that when he first turned in the manuscript to his publisher, they told him to burn it, warning him that the themes of homosexuality would alienate readers. Baldwin chose to publish it anyway and the book went on to be considered one of the best LGBTQ novels ever written.