Today (August 2) would’ve been the esteemed author, playwright and activist James Baldwin’s 97th birthday. In honor of the day, many outlets and individuals on social media are celebrating his life and his words, which still have great resonance and a prophetic tone today.
Baldwin’s early life was marked with discoveries and moments of disillusion with society due to racism and hypocrisy. This ranged from his experiences in school to what he encountered in the Pentecostal church he once found refuge in after becoming a junior minister. He worked on his writing, being published in The Nation when he was 17 and having his first book, Go Tell It On The Mountain published while he lived in Paris, France where he would spend most of his life.
Baldwin’s groundbreaking first collection of essays, Notes of A Native Son brought these perspectives front and center, and led to him becoming a strong voice on civil rights in America. He would go on to publish The Fire Next Time in 1963, further cementing his position as he detailed the plight of Black Americans fighting for their liberation and the harmful stances of white Americans in response utilizing religious themes and influences from jazz and the blues.
Baldwin’s work on the literary and activist fronts brought him in contact with many notable figures, some of who he’d create lifelong friendships with. These included poet and novelist Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King as well as poet Nikki Giovanni. Years after his passing in 1984, Baldwin’s works and words still resonate today with artists and many fighting for social justice. Prominent examples include filmmaker Barry Jenkins adapting his novel If Beale Street Could Talk in 2018 into an Academy Award-winning film and Raoul Peck adapting his unfinished work Remember This House into the acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro in 2016.
The Fire This Time: Celebrating James Baldwin On His 97th Birthday was originally published on hiphopwired.com