James Baldwin's National Identity

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James Baldwin (1924–1987) is one of the most prolific and forceful writers on the issue of race in the United States. He connected his personal experiences to broader concerns about human identity, creativity, and social justice. Baldwin was active in many literary genres, producing essays, novels, plays, journalism, and poetry. He is recognized as a chief contributor to the development of African American writing and to the canon of American literature.

James Baldwin by his typewriter, Istanbul 1966.
Copyright: Sedat Panay 1966, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Baldwin began his writing career in 1946 in New York, but moved in 1948 to Paris, where he cultivated personal and professional relationships that would eventually lead him to Turkey, Switzerland, and the completion of his semi-autobiographical first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953). Baldwin gained a new perspective while abroad on his individual and national identity. He defined his role on the world’s stage and freely cultivated his intellectual and creative abilities. Baldwin frequently traveled back to the United States to engage in civil rights activism, negotiate with his publishers, and visit family.


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