James Baldwin: A Biography

Overview


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 ...
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Overview


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, which Library Journal called “indispensable,” 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.”

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

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

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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781628724387
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/3/2015
  • Pages: 464

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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