James Baldwin: A Biography

James Baldwin: A Biography

by David Leeming


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“The most revealing and subjectively penetrating assessment of Baldwin’s life yet published.” —The New York Times Book Review. “The first Baldwin biography in which one can recognize the human features of this brilliant, troubled, principled, supremely courageous man.” —Boston Globe

James Baldwin was one of the great writers of the last century. In works that have become part of the American canon—Go Tell It on a Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, The Fire Next Time, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen—he explored issues of race and racism in America, class distinction, and sexual difference.

A gay, African American writer who was born in Harlem, he found the freedom to express himself living in exile in Paris. When he returned to America to cover the Civil Rights movement, he became an activist and controversial spokesman for the movement, writing books that became bestsellers and made him a celebrity, landing him on the cover of Time.

In this biography, David Leeming creates an intimate portrait of a complex, troubled, driven, and brilliant man. He plumbs every aspect of Baldwin’s life: his relationships with the unknown and the famous, including painter Beauford Delaney, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, and childhood friend Richard Avedon; his expatriate years in France and Turkey; his gift for compassion and love; the public pressures that overwhelmed his quest for happiness, and his passionate battle for black identity, racial justice, and to “end the racial nightmare and achieve our country.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628724387
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 289,340
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

David Leeming, emeritus professor of English at the University of Connecticut, was a friend of James Baldwin for twenty-five years as well as his assistant from 1963 to 1967. He is also the author of several works on world mythology, including The World of Myth: An Anthology and Medusa: In the Mirror of Time. He lives in Rhinebeck, New York.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements xi

1 The Harlem Life 3

2 Bill Miller 14

3 Awakenings 21

4 Beauford Delaney 32

5 Probings 37

6 The Expatriate 56

7 Lucien and the Mountain 74

8 Go Tell It on the Mountain 84

9 The Search for Giovanni 90

10 Notes of a Native Son 98

11 The Amen Corner 106

12 A Period of Transition 114

13 Giovanni's Room 122

14 End of an Era 130

15 The Journey South 135

16 The Call of the Stage 140

17 Sermons and Blues 157

18 In Search of a Role 172

19 Nobody Knows My Name 183

20 Another Country 200

21 Africa and The Fire Next Time 207

22 The Activist 216

23 Blues for Mister Charlie 231

24 Lucien and the White Problem 243

25 Searching for a New Life 252

26 Istanbul 262

27 Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone 278

28 One Day, When I Was Lost 284

29 No Name in the Street 303

30 If Beale Street Could Talk 323

31 The Devil Finds Work 330

32 Just Above My Head 345

33 The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Remember This House 352

34 Gathering Around the Welcome Table 372

Notes 389

Chronological Bibliography of Printed Works James Baldwin 405

Index 419

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James Baldwin 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This engrossing and well laid out biography of Baldwin. The author a close friend of Baldwin present at his death captures the events circumstances and views tat helped develop Baldwin. Also captured are the contexts of his memorable works. A must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
His stepfather made fun of his eyes, and called him 'the ugliest child he had ever seen.' This was a two-pronged insult because James Baldwin had his mother's eyes. As long as he lived, Baldwin would retell an incident related to that memory that he said changed the course of his life. When he was perhaps five or six-years-old, he was amazed to see on the street an old woman with large eyes and lips. He ran upstairs, called his mother to the window, and said, 'You see? You see? She's uglier than you, Mama! She's uglier than me!' The significant aspect of seeing that face on the street would take Baldwin many years to articulate. He learned that his physical appearance did not necessarily have an effect on what he would do in life, 'that if his mother was `ugly,' then even ugliness could be beautiful.' And this unattractive, intellectually precocious boy became the man who would write like no other, chronicling America in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He gave us the novels 'Go Tell It On The Mountain,' 'Giovanni's Room,' and 'Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone.' Baldwin used to say to white audiences, 'I've been here for 350 years and you've never seen me.' That sense of alienation is evoked in the titles of his collections of essays, 'Nobody Knows My Name' and 'No Name in the Street.' Undoubtedly, students of sociology yet unborn will pore over these words to better understand America in the 20th century. Other biographies have been written about James Baldwin - none as personal, revealing and poignant as this. David Leeming, Baldwin's associate for four years and friend for a quarter of a century has produced a masterful portrait of one of our country's most enigmatic geniuses. - Gail Cooke