James Baldwin

by Eric from Elmhurst

A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin's childhood memories (at least those he wrote about) focused mainly on his difficult relationship with his strict, religious father. He grew up quickly - the oldest of nine children, he was a preacher at a small church in Harlem when he was only 14. "Those three years in the pulpit -- I didn't realize it then -- that that is what turned me into a writer, really, dealing with all that anguish and despair and that beauty."

It is that mix of despair and beauty that Baldwin uses to create powerful and deeply tragic stories. My favorite book of his (and my favorite book, period) is Another Country, a novel about the complexity of personal, human relationships embedded in socio-political relationships, without shrinking away from looking at society's ugly problems. He doesn't spare the reader harsh realities by focusing only on the personal, but he always remembers that the most important things to anyone are what is closest.

Besides his writing, Baldwin was a brave man. Long before it was even a little acceptable, he was out as a gay man, and vocal about human rights. He said, "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." In his work, Baldwin dealt with pain. In his activism, he was unyielding and compassionate.

Related Links

PBS: Public television: American Masters - features James Baldwin.
Random House Feature: James Baldwin - features a good bio on Baldwin.


Author Info

My hero is the novelist and essayist James Baldwin. I admire James Baldwin because he had the rare ability to criticize and love things at the same time. He wrote from the very bottom of his heart; he put his entire being into his words. As an educator, Baldwin inspires me because he spoke up for his own rights and the rights of others at a time when speaking up was sometimes a dangerous thing to do. He showed me that writing, speaking up and making art can move people and change things, but only if you do those things with love.