Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
James Baldwin was born on 2 August 1924 at Harlem, New York, to Emma Berdis Jones and James Arthur out of wedlock. Little Baldwin did not know the name or whereabouts of his real father. He often said, "I never had a childhood" meaning he never had a father in the real sense.
In 1927, Emma Berdis married David Baldwin who was a labour and a Baptist minister. David preached in New Orleans and later in Harlem. David was much older to Emma and was already the father of three children when he married the latter. David had very little affection for James and could never consider him his own. James, thus, started hating the man he believed to be his father.
The early years of James were far from happy. He lived with his family in the squalor of a Harlem tenement. With nine children at home, the wages his father earned were not sufficient to feed every one of them. James ‘scarcely ever’ had enough to eat. Still, he helped his mother to look after the other children. As he grew up, he took interest in reading. He read the Bible and the novels of Dickens, Dostoevsky and Harriet Beecher Stowe. His teachers in the elementary school recognized his talent and encouraged him to do his best.
At the age of fourteen, James became a preacher. However, he was not as pious as other clergymen. He was more interested in pursuing literary work. As a student of De Witt Clinton High School, he worked on the school magazine, the Magpie along with two more students. He contributed poems and short stories for the magazine. His teacher Delaney who was also an artist influenced him to express his ideas truthfully. The works of Richard Wright also cast an impression on the mind of James. He was determined to establish himself as a writer in a world dominated by the Whites.
In the summer of 1941, he left school to join City College, New York. However, he could not continue his education in the college, as he had to shoulder the responsibility of his family. In 1942, he took up a job in the United States Army in New Jersey. Later, he got employed as a Railroad hand and earned a salary of $ 80 a week.
Baldwin continued writing and contributed articles to prestigious journals like The Partisan Review and Commentary. In 1948, he got the opportunity to go to Paris after winning a literary award. In this city, he penned down his reputed works like Go Tell it on the Mountain in 1953, Notes of a Native Son in 1955 and Giovinni’s Room in 1956. He returned back to United States in 1956.
Baldwin was a great drinker and party freak. However, he often took monastic retreats and wrote feverishly in solitude. Thus, in 1962, he published Another Country, in 1965 Going to Meet the Man, in 1968 Tell me How long the Train has been Gone, in 1974 If Beale Street Could Talk and in 1979 Just above my Head. In between he also wrote a number of essays and plays. Thus, in 1987 when he died, United States lost a vociferous spokesman of Black Americans and an inspiring writer.