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A writer for our times - James Baldwin

Jun 20, 2017

“You write in order to change the world ... if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” James Baldwin

James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time, Giovanni's Room, Another Country and Just Above My Head as well as essay works like Notes of a Native Son. 

Born on August 2, 1924, in New York City, to a young single mother, Baldwin never knew the name of his biological father. In 1946, Baldwin moved to France. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background. "Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly...I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both," Baldwin once told The New York Times.

As a gay black man, fatherless, who chose to leave his country, he looked beyond the binary racial politics of 1950s and 60s America, toward a future that could genuinely be called post-racial. Unlike his peers who took a hardline position – such as Malcolm X’s by-any-means-necessary stance, and the Black Panthers militancy – and offered solutions, Baldwin saw his job as bearing witness. James Baldwin published the 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, winning acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality and humanity. He died on December 1, 1987 in Saint-Paul de Vence. 

'Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.' James Baldwin.

'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.” James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.

 This is what a novel shows us:

“People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives, they lead.” James Baldwin

This is what you do as a writer:

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” James Baldwin.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” James Baldwin.

Never forget, how good people are and how cruel they can be. If you can keep this saddest of paradoxes alive in your work, you will have succeeded in the calling of a writer.

'Success' is so much more than being published. You can be published, work hard and you will be published, but treat it warily.

'People don't have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you're dead, when they've killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn't have any character. They weep big, bitter tears - not for you. For themselves, because they've lost their toy.' James Baldwin.

See the world as it is, tell how it is, make it and unmake it.

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