James Baldwin: A Biography

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He was one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary men of letters. Angry, provocative, courageous, James Baldwin wrote with such fierce eloquence about issues of race and sex that his great books - Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni's Room, Another Country, The Fire Next Time - are now part of the canon of American literature. The literary scholar David Leeming, a friend of Baldwin's for twenty-five years, brings us closer than we have ever been to the complex, troubled, brilliant man who struggled out of...
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1994 Hard cover New in fine dust jacket. lt shelfwear to d/j-Book Appears Unread Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 442 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Overview

He was one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary men of letters. Angry, provocative, courageous, James Baldwin wrote with such fierce eloquence about issues of race and sex that his great books - Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni's Room, Another Country, The Fire Next Time - are now part of the canon of American literature. The literary scholar David Leeming, a friend of Baldwin's for twenty-five years, brings us closer than we have ever been to the complex, troubled, brilliant man who struggled out of Harlem to create a series of works that expose the essential racism of America, and indeed the world. Leeming explores every aspect of Baldwin's life - his relationships with the famous and the unknown, his homosexuality and precarious style of life, his expatriate years in France and Turkey, his gift for compassion and love, the public pressures that overwhelmed his quest for fulfillment and happiness, and above all his inspired and passionate battle against the white society's blindness to black identity. "I've been here three hundred and fifty years," he would tell a white audience, "but you've never seen me." James Baldwin died in 1987 in France at the age of sixty-three. He lives vividly in the pages of David Leeming's powerful biography.

James Baldwin was one of the 20th century's most extraordinary men of letters. Through his many classic volumes of fiction and nonfiction, he passionately explored race and sexual relations with the vision that love could conquer these prejudices. In this biography, Leeming, Baldwin's life-long friend, examines every aspect of Baldwin's life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
James Baldwin (1924-1987), whose novels and essays aimed to liberate white America from the hypocrisy that made oppression and racism possible, was obsessed with his mission to bear witness to injustice, observes Leeming, who was Baldwin's secretary and longtime friend. Beneath the fiercely eloquent, prophetic writer was a troubled, vulnerable, lonely individual longing to be cradled and protected. Both sides of the man are probed in this highly perceptive, revealing biography, which Baldwin authorized in 1979. Leeming, who is now a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut, draws on interviews with Baldwin to illuminate the writer's difficulty in accepting his homosexuality, his attempted suicide in Paris in 1956, the strong autobiographical component in his fiction, his uneasy association with the Black Panthers and his formative relationship with his unloving stepfather, a puritanical, bitterly frustrated preacher who went mad. Photos. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Conscience-afflicting prose that probed what it meant to be an American, a Negro, and a male put Baldwin (1924-87) in the first rank of 20th-century American writers. His one-time personal secretary Leeming argues in this biography, which Baldwin reportedly authorized before his death, that the writer was a prophet and witness tormented by demons of illegitimacy and racial and sexual alienation. Obsessed with the question of identity and struggling to work out a vision of his life, Baldwin ( Go Tell It on the Mountain; Giovanni's Room ) necessarily welded his writing from autobiography. The personal Baldwin that Leeming contributes will be indispensable to Baldwin scholars and a complement to other recent works of evaluation such as James Campbell's Talking at the Gates ( LJ 4/1/91), William J. Weatherby's James Baldwin: Artist on Fire ( LJ 5/1/89), and Horace A. Porter's Stealing the Fire ( LJ 2/1/89). Recommended for collections on Baldwin, blacks, and 20th-century U.S. society and literature.-- Thomas J. Davis, SUNY at Buffalo
Brad Hooper
If perhaps Baldwin's significance in American literature has faded somewhat in the public mind over the past decade or so, Leeming's intimate, artful--and major--biography should prove restorative. Leeming was a personal friend of the great novelist and essayist, and his book, while objective, was more or less authorized by the subject before his death in 1987. Baldwin's was not an easy life to lead; he felt forever an outsider because of his race and his sexual orientation--"a lonely and extremely vulnerable man" is how Leeming refers to him. Baldwin saw himself as a "prophet," someone placed on earth to see and announce the truth, particularly about racial injustice. Born into poverty in Harlem, Baldwin knew from an early age all about racism and to get away from it, to have peace to write, he spent much of his adult life in France. His love relationships were always difficult, and Leeming explores these frankly but sympathetically. His books gave him deserved fame, and Leeming proffers good insights into these works. An exceptional literary biography deserving wide promotion and readership.
From the Publisher

“The best literary biography I’ve read in a long time. An engrossing narrative.” —Leon Edel

“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

“Loving but honest . . . [Baldwin] wrote, ‘No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it,’ and . . . Mr. Leeming shows so well [the price he paid].” —The New York Times

“Intimate, artful—and major . . . An exceptional literary biography deserving wide promotion and readership . . . [by] a personal friend of the great novelist and essayist.” —Booklist

“Highly perceptive, revealing.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394577081
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/29/1994
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 442
  • Product dimensions: 6.51 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet 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.
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