Born on August 2nd in 1924, James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist.
To celebrate his birthday, here are the six novels he wrote:
1953. Go Tell It on the Mountain (semi-autobiographical)
In one of the greatest American classics, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.
With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin tells the story of the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Originally published in 1953, Baldwin said of his first novel, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.”
“With vivid imagery, with lavish attention to details … [a] feverish story.” —The New York Times
1956. Giovanni’s Room
Set among the bohemian bars and nightclubs of 1950s Paris, this groundbreaking novel about love and the fear of love is “a book that belongs in the top rank of fiction” (The Atlantic).
In the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality.
David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Soon the two are spending the night in Giovanni’s curtainless room, which he keeps dark to protect their privacy. But Hella’s return to Paris brings the affair to a crisis, one that rapidly spirals into tragedy.
David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night—“the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.” With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a deeply moving story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.
1962. Another Country
Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, among other locales, Another Country is a novel of passions—sexual, racial, political, artistic—that is stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality, depicting men and women, blacks and whites, stripped of their masks of gender and race by love and hatred at the most elemental and sublime.
“Brilliantly and fiercely told.” —The New York Times
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
1968. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone
A major work of American literature that powerfully portrays the anguish of being Black in a society that at times seems poised on the brink of total racial war.
At the height of his theatrical career, the actor Leo Proudhammer is nearly felled by a heart attack. As he hovers between life and death, Baldwin shows the choices that have made him enviably famous and terrifyingly vulnerable.
For between Leo’s childhood on the streets of Harlem and his arrival into the intoxicating world of the theater lies a wilderness of desire and loss, shame and rage. An adored older brother vanishes into prison. There are love affairs with a white woman and a younger black man, each of whom will make irresistible claims on Leo’s loyalty.
Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is overpowering in its vitality and extravagant in the intensity of its feeling.
1974. If Beale Street Could Talk
In this honest and stunning novel that inspired the award-winning major motion picture of the same name, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice.
“A major work of Black American fiction.” –The New Republic
Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.
1979. Just Above My Head
James Baldwin’s final novel is “the work of a born storyteller at the height of his powers” (The New York Times Book Review).
“Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.”
The stark grief of a brother mourning a brother opens this stunning, unforgettable novel. Here, in a monumental saga of love and rage, James Baldwin goes back to Harlem, to the church of his groundbreaking novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, to the forbidden passion of Giovanni’s Room, and to the political fire that enflames his nonfiction work. Here, too, the story of gospel singer Arthur Hall and his family becomes both a journey into another country of the soul and senses—and a living contemporary history of black struggle in this land.