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Folk singer Odetta (l), writer James Baldwin (l) and Actor Ossie Davis (r) in New Rochelle, October 1963.
Folk singer Odetta (l), writer James Baldwin (l) and Actor Ossie Davis (r) in New Rochelle, October 1963.

Henry Grossman/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
James Baldwin, (1924-1987), was a black American novelist, essayist, and playwright. He gained fame for his works about racial conflict and injustice in the United States. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Baldwin participated in and was a major literary interpreter of the struggles of black Americans. In the powerful essay collections "Nobody Knows My Name" (1961) and "The Fire Next Time" (1963), Baldwin expressed the reaction of blacks to racial discrimination.

Baldwin also expressed his views about interracial conflict in his fiction and dramas of the 1960s. The novel ANOTHER COUNTRY (1962) focuses on a black musician and his relationships with white lovers. The drama "Blues for Mister Charlie" (1964) examines the interracial tensions surrounding the murder of a black man by a white man in a Southern town. In the novel TELL ME HOW LONG THE TRAIN'S BEEN GONE (1968), Baldwin presented his most detailed analysis of black civil rights activities of the 1960s. Baldwin's racial attitudes are also reflected in the short stories collected in "Going to Meet the Man" (1965).

Some of Baldwin's earlier works emphasize topics other than racial conflict. For example, his first novel, GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN (1953), reveals the psychological problems of members of a black family. Baldwin explored the subject of homosexuality in his next novel, GIOVANNI'S ROOM (1956), and in other works of fiction. Baldwin also wrote the novels IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (1974) and JUST ABOVE MY HEAD (1979).

James Arthur Baldwin was born on Aug. 2, 1924, in the Harlem district of New York City. He was a minister as a teen-ager and much of his writing stresses the importance of developing satisfactory relationships with other people. He died on Dec. 1, 1987.

Nellie Y. McKay, Ph.D., Former Professor of American and Afro-American Literature, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on James Baldwin and related subjects.

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