#TBT – James Baldwin

By A. Mattonen

Activist, essayist, novelist, playwright, poet–there are many titles that spring to mind when hearing James Baldwin’s name. His bibliography contains a myriad of works that lend themselves to modern day literary critics, wordsmiths, and public speakers. There is even a Buzzfeed article dedicated to Baldwin quotes that can “feed your soul.”

What about Baldwin the LGBTQ figure? To think of Baldwin as an icon of queer history may be a stretch. His identity as a gay man was a source of great conflict for him, as it was for many in the mid-20th century. For example, he was not a fan of the word “gay” and felt it did not describe him (James). However the struggles and experiences he faced as a black, gay man in the political climates of American and Europe at the time are not to be overlooked.

In honor of the 94th anniversary of Baldwin’s birthday, check out the following works that more openly approached LGBTQ themes in his writing.

Giovanni’s Room (1956)

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.



Another County (1962)

Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, among other locales, Another Country is a novel of passions–sexual, racial, political, artistic–that is stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality, depicting men and women, blacks and whites, stripped of their masks of gender and race by love and hatred at the most elemental and sublime.




Just Above My Head (1979)

The stark grief of a brother mourning a brother opens this novel with a stunning, unforgettable experience.  Here, in a monumental saga of love and rage, Baldwin goes back to Harlem, to the church of his groundbreaking novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, to the homosexual passion of Giovanni’s Room, and to the political fire that enflames his nonfiction work.  Here, too, the story of gospel singer Arthur Hall and his family becomes both a journey into another country of the soul and senses–and a living contemporary history of black struggle in this land.





Book summaries via Amazon.

James Baldwin on Being Gay in America. (2018, June 22). Retrieved August 1, 2018, from https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/06/22/james-baldwin-on-being-gay-in-america/


Image of James Baldwin retrieved August 1, 2018, from https://www.biography.com/people/james-baldwin-9196635 


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