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James Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem, New York City and died in 1987. He became a preacher at the age of 14, at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. In 1940s, he changed his faith from religion to literature. He was a playwright and novelist in the mid twentieth century. In his lifetime, Baldwin wrote over fifty books and several essays, including three reading series for children. However, critics noted Baldwin's impassioned cadences of black churches evident from his writing. He offered a vital literary voice in the era of civil rights activism in the 1950 and 1960s. He emerged as one of the top activists in the civil rights movement for his compelling work on race.
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Baldwin was openly gay, and this made him aggressively outspoken in condemning discrimination against the gay community. He wrote several novels reflecting his identity including Giovanni's Room in 1956, about a white American expatriate who needs to identity his identity and come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country in 1962, about gay and racial sexual tensions among the New York intellectuals. His incorporation of gay themes led to much savage criticism from the Black Americans. Eldridge Cleaver, from the Black Panthers, stated that James Baldwin's writing implied an agonizing and absolute hatred for blacks. James Baldwin's play, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone produced in 1968, going to meet the Man (1965) and Blues for Mister Charlie, produced in 1964, provided strong descriptions of American racism (Bloom 62).
Baldwin established himself as one of the top writers through his essays. He explored the black experience in the American world while delving into his own life. This comes out clearly in his books such as Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961) and Notes of a Native Son (1955). In Baldwin’s book, “Anti-Semitism and Black Power,” he portrays a perfect illustration of black existentialism, the struggle with history and how blacks face challenges of self-identification. He captures the unflinching complexity of thinkers such as Paul Gilroy and Fanon, as he flexes his rhetorical muscle. In 1963, James Baldwin changed his aspect of writing essays in order be able to educate the white Americans on what it meant by being black. He offered his audience a position to view themselves through the eyes of an African American.
Baldwin expressed a brutal but realistic picture of race relations, at the same time giving hope of possible improvements. In 1964, Baldwin wrote a play, Blues for Mister Charlie, based on the murder of a young African – American boy called Emmett Till, which had a link to racial motivation. He attributed this work to Evers Medgar, a slain leader of civil rights. In 1968, Baldwin wrote a novel, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, which indicated his return to popular themes such as family, sexuality and the black experience. He faced criticism for his use of first – person singular in the novel’s narration, which some critics panned as a polemic rather than a novel.
In the 1970s, Baldwin developed despair over the racial situation during those times. This was after witnessing immense violence, especially the assassinations of Malcolm, Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr, which resulted from racial hatred. He employed a strident tone in his work during this time, with this disillusionment being apparent in his work. James Baldwin became an outstanding spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement, and regarded as not just another writer who expresses the dark reality racism with abrasiveness and poignancy. However, he rejected this brand of being a civil rights activist or his participation in a civil rights movement.
He opted to agree with the assertion of Malcolm X that if one is a citizen, and then he or she should not fight over one’s civil rights. In Baldwin’s review of the cool World by Warren Miller, he expresses his suspicion on the way American hold on to the concept and practice of racism, by both sides of the racial fence that is obsolescent. He claims that both camps to this concept usually manage to evade the hideous complexity of the situation at the political and social levels. Baldwin sharpened the terms of Du Bois who famously said that the major issue of the twentieth century was color line. Increments of racial violence characterized by police brutality, assassinations, riots, mass incarceration dominated throughout these times. Baldwin asserted that the problem of America was the nigger they invented, and the adjustment was typically incisive and arresting. He recognized that racism experienced an active re-conception by every generation in accordance to the historical topography. American society was extremely complex, with the idea of racism shaping the seemingly independent self-construction of each person in the society, and perpetuated by the actions, speech, assumptions and judgment of everyone in the society (Godzich 45).
Baldwin’s early essays and reviews earned him the admiration as one of the leading editors from New York. This recognition did not impress him as he claimed that it only took a couple of cocktail parties to recognize, the people one was dealing with, and that they were literary professions majorly because they hated literature. He was against those ‘realistic novelists’ who never succeeded and only faced dismal failure. Despite his anger from the recognition, Baldwin sill possessed a sympathetic imagination. There appeared to be a thread of broad identification and sympathy that bound Baldwin’s literary work to his social essays. Baldwin has directed his rage and compassion to this largesse in equal measure, thus helping him and his readers to understand the internal conflicts of others.
In Baldwin’s conflicted essay to the imprisoned radical Angela Davis, he stated, “one might hope that the sight of chains on black flesh, or just the sight of chains, would be an intolerable sight with unbearable memory for the American people. The Americans would spontaneously stand up and strike the manacles, but no, they appear to have glory in their chains and appear to measure their safety in chains and corpses.” When he wrote this, population in the American prisons was only a fraction of the current size. Currently, black Americans face imprisonment more than five times the rate of white Americans.
James Baldwin’s style is a combination of dialectical and pulpit cadences that blend well. They reveal how idiosyncratic his upbringing was as a talented preacher when he was still a young man, a darling figure to the Manhattan smart set, and an expatriate to Paris. His repetition of ideas generates massive tension and a sense of rhetorical momentum, while his digressions suspend that culmination, complicating various expectations and capturing the readers with startling and stark revelations. The best part of Baldwin is writing transitions from an evocative, casual, at the time with Biblical lyricism, and the careful and realistic terms of a deeply felt moral philosophy (Fisher and Shapiro 56).
The phrases picked up from The Cross of Redemption shows that Baldwin’s style was mature in starts and fits. It majorly reveals the impatience and frustration that troubled Baldwin late in his career. Baldwin wrote that “the time has come that the framework in which the Americans operate weighs heavily for them to bear, and would even kill them. In the last thirty years of his career, James Baldwin an editor at the American Book Company, which was the largest textbooks publisher in America, at that time? Baldwin had an immense influence on the reading of the American youth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries while going about his roles as author and editor.