James Baldwin: Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son / Nobody Knows My Name / The Fire Next Time / No Name in the Street / The Devil Finds Work / other essays: (Library of America #98)

James Baldwin: Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son / Nobody Knows My Name / The Fire Next Time / No Name in the Street / The Devil Finds Work / other essays: (Library of America #98)

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Overview

James Baldwin was a uniquely prophetic voice in American letters. His brilliant and provocative essays made him the literary voice of the Civil Rights Era, and they continue to speak with powerful urgency to us today, whether in the swirling debate over the Black Lives Matter movement or in the words of Raoul Peck's documentary "I Am Not Your Negro." Edited by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the Library of America's Collected Essays is the most comprehensive gathering of Baldwin's nonfiction ever published.

With burning passion and jabbing, epigrammatic wit, Baldwin fearlessly articulated issues of race and democracy and American identity in such famous essays as "The Harlem Ghetto," "Everybody's Protest Novel," "Many Thousands Gone," and "Stranger in the Village." Here are the complete texts of his early landmark collections, Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Nobody Knows My Name (1961), which established him as an essential intellectual voice of his time, fusing in unique fashion the personal, the literary, and the political. "One writes," he stated, "out of one thing only—one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give." With singular eloquence and unblinking sharpness of observation he lived up to his credo: "I want to be an honest man and a good writer."

The classic The Fire Next Time (1963), perhaps the most influential of his writings, is his most penetrating analysis of America's racial divide and an impassioned call to "end the racial nightmare...and change the history of the world." The later volumes No Name in the Street (1972) and The Devil Finds Work (1976) chart his continuing response to the social and political turbulence of his era and include his remarkable works of film criticism. A further 36 essays—nine of them previously uncollected—include some of Baldwin's earliest published writings, as well as revealing later insights into the language of Shakespeare, the poetry of Langston Hughes, and the music of Earl Hines.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781883011529
Publisher: Library of America
Publication date: 02/28/1998
Series: Library of America Series , #1
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 869
Sales rank: 74,121
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 8.18(h) x 1.15(d)

About the Author

With the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), a distillation of his own experiences as a preacher’s son in 1930s Harlem, and the essay collection Notes of a Native Son (1955), James Baldwin (1924-1987) established himself as a prophetic voice of his era. Some such voices may grow fainter with the passage of time, but Baldwin remains an inescapable presence, not only a chronicler of his epoch but a thinker who helped shape it.

Toni Morrison
, volume editor, is the author of a number of award-winning novels, including Love, Jazz, Beloved, Song of Solomon, Sula, and The Bluest Eye. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Date of Birth:

August 2, 1924

Date of Death:

December 1, 1987

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

St. Paul de Vence, France

Education:

DeWitt Clinton High School, New York City

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Autobiographical Notes

I was born in Harlem thirty-one years ago. I began plotting novels at about the time I learned to read. The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that I certainly would not consider living it again. In those days my mother was given to the exasperating and mysterious habit of having babies. As they were born, I took them over with one hand and held a book with the other. The children probably suffered, though they have since been kind enough to deny it, and in this way I read Uncle Tom's Cabin and A Tale of Two Cities over and over and over again; in this way, in fact, I read just about everything I could get my hands on—except the Bible, probably because it was the only book I was encouraged to read. I must also confess that I wrote—a great deal—and my first professional triumph, in any case, the first effort of mine to be seen in print, occurred at the age of twelve or thereabouts, when a short story I had written about the Spanish revolution won some sort of prize in an extremely short-lived church newspaper. I remember the story was censored by the lady editor, though I don't remember why, and I was outraged.

Also wrote plays, and songs, for one of which I received a letter of congratulations from Mayor La Guardia, and poetry, about which the less said, the better. My mother was delighted by all these goings-on, but my father wasn't; he wanted me to be a preacher. When I was fourteen I became a preacher, and when I was seventeen I stopped. Very shortly thereafter I left home. For God knows how longI struggled with the world of commerce and industry—I guess they would say they struggled with me—and when I was about twenty-one I had enough done of a novel to get a Saxton Fellowship. When I was twenty-two the fellowship was over, the novel turned out to be unsalable, and I started waiting on tables in a Village restaurant and writing book reviews—mostly, as it turned out, about the Negro problem, concerning which the color of my skin made me automatically an expert. Did another book, in company with photographer Theodore Pelatowski, about the store-front churches in Harlem. This book met exactly the same fate as my first—fellowship, but no sale. (It was a Rosenwald Fellowship.) By the time I was twenty-four I had decided to stop reviewing books about the Negro problem—which, by this time, was only slightly less horrible in print than it was in life—and I packed my bags and went to France, where I finished, God knows how, Go Tell It on the Mountain.

Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent—which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important. So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next—one is tempted to say that he moves from one disaster to the next. When one begins looking for influences one finds them by the score. I haven't thought much about my own, not enough anyway; I hazard that the King James Bible, the rhetoric of the store-front church, something ironic and violent and perpetually understated in Negro speech—and something of Dickens' love for bravura—have something to do with me today; but I wouldn't stake my life on it. Likewise, innumerable people have helped me in many ways; but finally, I suppose, the most difficult (and most rewarding) thing in my life has been the fact that I was born a Negro and was forced, therefore, to effect some kind of truce with this reality. (Truce, by the way, is the best one can hope for.)

One of the difficulties about being a Negro writer (and this is not special pleading, since I don't mean to suggest that he has it worse than anybody else) is that the Negro problem is written about so widely. The bookshelves groan under the weight of information, and everyone therefore considers himself informed. And this information, furthermore, operates usually (generally, popularly) to reinforce traditional attitudes. Of traditional attitudes there are only two—For or Against—and I, personally, find it difficult to say which attitude has caused me the most pain. I am speaking as a writer; from a social point of view I am perfectly aware that the change from ill-will to good-will, however motivated, however imperfect, however expressed, is better than no change at all.

But it is part of the business of the writer—as I see it—to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source. From this point of view the Negro problem is nearly inaccessible. It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly. It is quite possible to say that the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself, at length, with nothing to be articulate about. ("You taught me language," says Caliban to Prospero, "and my profit on't is I know how to curse.") Consider: the tremendous social activity that this problem generates imposes on whites and Negroes alike the necessity of looking forward, of working to bring about a better day. This is fine, it keeps the waters troubled; it is all, indeed, that has made possible the Negro's progress. Nevertheless, social affairs are not generally speaking the writer's prime concern, whether they ought to be or not; it is absolutely necessary that he establish between himself and these affairs a distance which will allow, at least, for clarity, so that before he can look forward in any meaningful sense, he must first be allowed to take a long look back. In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.

I know, in any case, that the most crucial time in my own development came when I was forced to recognize that I was a kind of bastard of the West; when I followed the line of my past I did not find myself in Europe but in Africa. And this meant that in some subtle way, in a really profound way, I brought to Shakespeare, Bach, Rembrandt, to the stones of Paris, to the cathedral at Chartres, and to the Empire State Building, a special attitude. These were not really my creations, they did not contain my history; I might search in them in vain forever for any reflection of myself. I was an interloper; this was not my heritage. At the same time I had no other heritage which I could possibly hope to use—I had certainly been unfitted for the jungle or the tribe. I would have to appropriate these white centuries, I would have to make them mine—I would have to accept my special attitude, my special place in this scheme—otherwise I would have no place in any scheme. What was the most difficult was the fact that I was forced to admit something I had always hidden from myself, which the American Negro has had to hide from himself as the price of his public progress; that I hated and feared white people. This did not mean that I loved black people; on the contrary, I despised them, possibly because they failed to produce Rembrandt. In effect, I hated and feared the world. And this meant, not only that I thus gave the world an altogether murderous power over me, but also that in such a self-destroying limbo I could never hope to write.

One writes out of one thing only—one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art. The difficulty then, for me, of being a Negro writer was the fact that I was, in effect, prohibited from examining my own experience too closely by the tremendous demands and the very real dangers of my social situation.

I don't think the dilemma outlined above is uncommon. I do think, since writers work in the disastrously explicit medium of language, that it goes a little way towards explaining why, out of the enormous resources of Negro speech and life, and despite the example of Negro music, prose written by Negroes has been generally speaking so pallid and so harsh. I have not written about being a Negro at such length because I expect that to be my only subject, but only because it was the gate I had to unlock before I could hope to write about anything else. I don't think that the Negro problem in America can be even discussed coherently without bearing in mind its context; its context being the history, traditions, customs, the moral assumptions and preoccupations of the country; in short, the general social fabric. Appearances to the contrary, no one in America escapes its effects and everyone in America bears some responsibility for it. I believe this the more firmly because it is the overwhelming tendency to speak of this problem as though it were a thing apart. But in the work of Faulkner, in the general attitude and certain specific passages in Robert Penn Warren, and, most significantly, in the advent of Ralph Ellison, one sees the beginnings—at least—of a more genuinely penetrating search. Mr. Ellison, by the way, is the first Negro novelist I have ever read to utilize in language, and brilliantly, some of the ambiguity and irony of Negro life.

About my interests: I don't know if I have any, unless the morbid desire to own a sixteen-millimeter camera and make experimental movies can be so classified. Otherwise, I love to eat and drink—-it's my melancholy conviction that I've scarcely ever had enough to eat (this is because it's impossible to eat enough if you're worried about the next meal)—and I love to argue with people who do not disagree with me too profoundly, and I love to laugh. I do not like bohemia, or bohemians, I do not like people whose principal aim is pleasure, and I do not like people who are earnest about anything. I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one's own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer.

FATHER, SOLDIER, SON
Memoir of a Platoon Leader in Vietnam

By NATHANIEL TRIPP

STEERFORTH PRESS

Copyright © 1996 Nathaniel Tripp. All rights reserved.
TAILER

Table of Contents

NOTES OF A NATIVE SON
Autobiographical Notes5
Everybody's Protest Novel11
Many Thousands Gone19
Carmen Jones: The Dark Is Light Enough35
The Harlem Ghetto42
Journey to Atlanta54
Notes of a Native Son63
Encounter on the Seine: Black Meets Brown85
A Question of Identity91
Equal in Paris101
Stranger in the Village117
NOBODY KNOWS MY NAME
The Discovery of What It Means To Be an American137
Princes and Powers143
Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem170
East River, Downtown: Postscript to a Letter from Harlem180
A Fly in Buttermilk187
Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South197
Faulkner andDesegregation209
In Search of a Majority215
Notes for a Hypothetical Novel222
The Male Prison231
TheNorthern Protestant236
Alas, Poor Richard247
The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy269
THE FIRE NEXT TIME
My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew291
Down at the Cross296
NO NAME IN THE STREET349
THE DEVIL FINDS WORK477
OTHER ESSAYS
Smaller Than Life577
History as Nightmare579
The Image of the Negro582
Lockridge: `The American Myth'588
Preservation of Innocence594
The Negro at Home and Abroad601
The Crusade of Indignation606
Sermons and Blues614
On Catfish Row616
They Can't Turn Back622
The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King638
The New Lost Generation659
The Creative Process669
Color673
A Talk to Teachers678
"This Nettle, Danger ..."687
Nothing Personal692
Words of a Native Son707
The American Dream and the American Negro714
On the Painter Beauford Delaney720
The White Man's Guilt722
A Report from Occupied Territory728
Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White739
White Racism or World Community?749
Sweet Lorraine757
How One Black Man Came To Be an American762
An Open Letter to Mr. Carter766
Last of the Great Masters770
Every Good-bye Ain't Gone773
If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?780
Open Letter to the Born Again784
Dark Days788
Notes on the House of Bondage799
Introduction to Notes of a Native Son, 1984808
Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood814
The Price of the Ticket830
Chronology845
Note on the Texts856
Notes860
Autobiographical Notes5
Everybody's Protest Novel11
Many Thousands Gone19
Carmen Jones: The Dark Is Light Enough35
The Harlem Ghetto42
Journey to Atlanta54
Notes of a Native Son63
Encounter on the Seine: Black Meets Brown85
A Question of Identity91
Equal in Paris101
Stranger in the Village117

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James Baldwin: Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son / Nobody Knows My Name / The Fire Next Time / No Name in the Street / The Devil Finds Work / ot 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Baldwin's Collected Essays (Vol. 2, non-fiction), is a comprehensive collection of Baldwin's forte, the non-fiction essay, put together thoughtfully by Toni Morrison and published with the authenticity and academic integrity of the Library of America. This collection is a constant source of inspiration on the literal pain of life from which the genius of writing emerges. Baldwin's works in these essays give the reader the intimate feeling of sitting across a room speaking directly with Baldwin, the sage. Further, this collection gives the fellow writer a testament with which to reaffirm his own humanity in order that he too may render to the world that re-evaluation which Baldwin so succinctly says the writer must do. In short, Baldwin's essays validate the duty of the writer to the very instant he realizes that task is his--lonely, but noble. The evidence of his journey from struggle to wisdom is his legacy in his words that document a writer's responsibility to the world--a responsibility he fulfilled. The book is in 2 words: classic legacy.
bexaplex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Baldwin: Collected Essays is an astounding collection of personal recollection, literary critique and political commentary. Baldwin, summarized on the back cover as having "burning passion and jabbing, epigrammatic acuity", never strayed from his vision of a truthful search for identity as the only occupation of a meaningful life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago