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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 laurea 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.


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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 laurea 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.

30 review for 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

  1. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    James Baldwin's Collected Essays In The Library Of America The Library of America published this large volume of James Baldwin's essays in 1998 together with a volume of his early novels and stories, both edited by Toni Morrison. In 2015, the LOA published a volume of Baldwin's later novels edited by Darryl Pinckney. With the continuation of what Baldwin described in "The Fire Next Time" as America's "racial nightmare", his writings have been receiving increased attention. This anthology allows th James Baldwin's Collected Essays In The Library Of America The Library of America published this large volume of James Baldwin's essays in 1998 together with a volume of his early novels and stories, both edited by Toni Morrison. In 2015, the LOA published a volume of Baldwin's later novels edited by Darryl Pinckney. With the continuation of what Baldwin described in "The Fire Next Time" as America's "racial nightmare", his writings have been receiving increased attention. This anthology allows the reader to follow Baldwin (1924 -- 1987) from his early book reviews beginning in 1947 through his late essays of 1985. It includes his five books of essays together with a collection of thirty-six essays ranging over Baldwin's career. The volume is lengthy and demanding but rewards reading through for the understanding it gives of the author. I found Baldwin highly personal, subjective, intense, and passionate in his essays. His overriding theme, stated many times, is the search for identity, first his own before that of his country, and finding what he was born to do as a writer. His writing is beautiful and expressivist. Baldwin is searching for what gives life meaning; and everything he writes, from large discussions of racism, history, sexuality, and book and film reviews is intertwined with his own sense of self. Baldwin was raised in a Harlem slum, and he emphasized throughout his difficult relationship with his father, a preacher and a laborer. A young white woman teacher nicknamed Bill took an interest in Baldwin and took the precocious child to films and plays, encouraging his intellectual development. Baldwin left this mentoring relationship at the age of 13 as a result of a religious experience. When he told Bill he was joining the church and not going to the movies and theaters she told him "I've lost a lot of respect for you". Baldwin would be a preacher through the age of 17 when he left the church for good. While Baldwin always remained distant from Christianity, his writing and themes have a distinctly religious fervor and use heavily religious expression. He was formed by his experience in the church as well as by his exploration of literature, theater, and film with Bill. In addition to their subjective, experiential character, erudition and religious tone, Baldwin's essays are preoccupied with sexuality -- his own both in male-female relationships and in his homosexuality. Baldwin was concerned throughout with masculinity and its nature. Baldwin is most often remembered for his writings on civil rights and on the position of African Americans in the United States. These are the crucial concerns of his writing. But it is valuable to see how these concerns were a product of Baldwin's own broad search for identity and meaning. He found his search limited by the marginalization and exploitation of African Americans in Harlem and by the hostility he experienced as a result of his color. He had to address these considerations to get at himself. So too, Baldwin left the United States in 1948 for France as a result of the impossibility he found of coming to an understanding of himself when faced with racial prejudice. Baldwin spent the larger part of his life abroad while returning frequently to the United States. Baldwin wrote about his search for himself through the lens of American racism many times. In the early Autobiographical Notes included in "Notes of a Native Son" he said "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.)" In the same essay, Baldwin continued: "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." Baldwin concluded his "Autobiographical Notes" with the observation: "I want to be an honest man and a good writer." One other discussion from Baldwin about his search for himself, for meaning, for the end of loneliness, and for shared human love deserves mention. In a 1962 essay, "The Creative Process", Baldwin described his view of the role of the artist. He wrote: "Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone. That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality -- a banality because it is very frequently states; but very rarely on the evidence believed. Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge which can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed; and none of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man's only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest; so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place." Baldwin's sense of himself and of his role as a writer are central to each of his five collections of essays included in this volume and to his exploration of racial issues. The first collection "Notes of a Native Son" (1955) includes ten essays, including the famous biographical essay of the same name and describes the Harlem of Baldwin's childhood, his experiences in Paris and Switzerland, and thoughts on works of literature and film, including the works of his friend Richard Wright. The second collection "Nobody Knows My Name" (1961) includes further discussions of Baldwin's Harlem experiences and of his experiences in the south, where he traveled and met Martin Luther King upon his return from Europe. Baldwin also continues to explore other authors, including William Faulkner. Baldwin's most famous essay in probably "The Fire Next Time" (1963) which in a short space is both highly personal and highly universal. Baldwin writes to his nephew and then writes an extended essay about his early life, his meeting with Elijah Muhammad, and his fears for the United States if the racial divide or "racial nightmare" is not resolved through a redirection of values and through a search for love. These themes are continued in "No Name in the Street" (1972) in which Baldwin describes his life in the late 1950s and 1960s. including his experiences with the Black Power movement. This lengthy essay has a harsher, more foreboding tone than the earlier works. Baldwin's final published essay collection, "The Devil Finds Work" (1976) weaves together Baldwin's own experiences with film reviews and reflections, beginning from his early days with Bill. Baldwin is a remarkable film critic because he draws from himself no less than from what he sees on the screen. In a 2014 article in the "Atlantic" Noah Berlatsky called Baldwin "the greatest film critic ever" He wrote that "what makes ["The Devil Finds Work"] sing is its sheer power of description, and its audacity in treating self, society, and art as a whole, to be argued with and lived with and loved all at once." "The Devil Finds Work' is one of the highlights of this collection. We discussed earlier, the essay "The Creative Process", one of many fine works from the final section of this anthology. The other essays in this part that I enjoyed include "A Talk to Teachers", "Nothing Personal" (which among other things discusses Bessie Smith's song "Long Old Road"); "On the Painter Beauford Delaney" (one of Baldwin's several moving tributes to this artist) and the final two highly personal essays, "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood" with its reflections on sexuality and the introspective autobiographical concluding essay "The Price of the Ticket." Baldwin's Collected Essays will reward slow and repeated readings. They have a timely message for the present day United States. But more importantly, they show the mind and heart of a highly gifted and thoughtful individual, part of the tradition and canon of American literature. Robin Friedman

  2. 5 out of 5

    B. P. Rinehart

    "My soul looks back and wonders how I got over--indeed: but I find it unexpectedly difficult to remember, in detail, how I got started." First sentence of "The Price of the Ticket" This book is year 6 of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent I first read James Baldwin in high school in the middle of the Bush-era when he was all but forgotten in the popular consciousness. I read his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain because it had been recommended in Shadow and "My soul looks back and wonders how I got over--indeed: but I find it unexpectedly difficult to remember, in detail, how I got started." First sentence of "The Price of the Ticket" This book is year 6 of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent I first read James Baldwin in high school in the middle of the Bush-era when he was all but forgotten in the popular consciousness. I read his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain because it had been recommended in Shadow and Act by Ralph Ellison. The book had also mentioned "Everybody's Protest Novel" as an aside, but I did not follow it up at the time. It wouldn't be until the end of my drawn-out college-career that I started on his essays and it was a revelation; I felt embarrassed to have not looked at sooner (thank God for the zeitgeist/hype-train). When he started becoming popular in the middle of 2010s, I made it a point to read him and read The Fire Next Time by October 2014. That would begin me on the Baldwin essay saga."Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words "acceptance" and "integration." There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it."That book of essays was amazing and part 1 felt like he was writing it to me in particular. It made me realize that this dude was going to be a part of my life from then on. I was and am still forming my intellectual foundation and this man, this contemporary of Ralph Ellison was like mortar within the bricks that Ellison had made for me--he filled in the gap (he was for me what Hume was for Kant, to give an ironic example). I decided to go through his essays and took it back from the beginning with Notes of a Native Son. This first effort of Baldwin shows how he splashed on to the scene as an intellectual and not simply a novelist. His public rebuke of his mentor Richard Wright became the story of this book, but it also offers his statement of intent and it has most of the themes he would return to examine for the rest of his life: race, literature, humanism, religion, film, and socio-political questions at large."The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger. I am not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive. One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa. This fact faced, with all its implications, it can be seen that the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again."Two years later (seeing a pattern) I decided to read his book of film criticism The Devil Finds Work. As a black cinephile, one is really made to feel like one is on an island. Besides film-makers, I don't know many people to who critically all through there career about film like James Baldwin. All of his books of essays have film reviews, but TDFW was special for being solely dedicated to film. This book was a special one for me and may be my second-favorite book of essays by him because of how he ended it."To encounter oneself is to encounter the other: and this is love. If I know that my soul trembles, I know that yours does, too: and if I can respect this, both of us can live. Neither of us, truly, can live without the other: a statement which would not sound so banal if one were not so endlessly compelled to repeat it, and act on that belief. "For, I have seen the devil, by day and by night, and have seen him in you and in me: in the eyes of the cop and the sheriff and the deputy, the landlord, the housewife, the football player: in the eyes of some governors, presidents, wardens, in the eyes of some orphans, and in the eyes of my father, and in my mirror. It is that moment when no other human being is real for you, nor are you real for yourself. The devil has no need of any dogma—though he can use them all—nor does he need any historical justification, history being so largely his invention. He does not levitate beds, or fool around with little girls: we do."The longest book of essays Baldwin ever wrote was Nobody Knows My Name. He wrote it as he was struggling to get Another Country finished and as his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was reaching its climax. It is the most..."writer-ly" of his essays and it introduces the theme of homosexuality into his collected non-fiction of the time (being as it was written after the publication of Giovanni’s Room and while he was writing Another Country). This Collected Essays includes an early essay he wrote on homosexuality in the 1940s. Nobody Knows My Name was notable to me for it's moving eulogy to Richard Wright who had died by the time it was published. It was obvious he was remorseful for never closing the riff with Wright (in the same way Ralph Ellison was in Going to the Territory)."'Be careful what you set your heart upon,' someone once said to me, 'for it will surely be yours.' Well, I had said that I was going to be a writer, God, Satan, and Mississippi not-withstanding, and that color did not matter, and that I was going to be free. And, here I was, left only myself to deal with. It was entirely up to me. These essays are a very small part of a private logbook. The question of color takes up much space in these pages, but the question of color, especially in this country, operates to hide the graver questions of the self."The book of essays by Baldwin that I think I like the most is No Name In the Street. This is his most realist view of things and it is the most contemporary in a meta-sense of anything he has written. This is the book for the post-Civil Rights Movement world. Besides giving his standard autobiographic summary of his life growing up which all of his books of essays has, this looks at his time in Paris before the Algerian War of Independence and it looks at his life post-The Fire Next Time. The light is fleeting here. The book ends during the Attica Uprising and introduces us to Tony Maynard, who would be the inspiration for Fony in If Beale Street Could Talk."To be an Afro-American, or an American black, is to be in the situation, intolerably exaggerated, of all those who have ever found themselves part of a civilization which they could in no wise way honorably defend--which they were compelled, indeed, endlessly to attack and condemn --and who yet spoke out of the most passionate love, hoping to make the kingdom new, to make it honorable and worthy of life. Whoever is part of whatever civilization helplessly loves some aspect of it, and some of the people in it. A person does not lightly elect to oppose his society. One would much rather be at home among one's compatriots than be mocked and detested by them. And there is a level on which the mockery of the people, even their hatred, is moving because it is so blind: it is terrible to watch people cling to their captivity and insist on their own destruction. I think black people have always felt this about America, and Americans, and have always seen, spinning above the thoughtless American head, the shape of the wrath to come."The rest of the essays featured in this book were picked by the editor Toni Morrison. They don't represent all his uncollected essays, but the ones she felt important to place here (though many of the ones in this section were published in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985--the final book of essays published in his lifetime). These essays were a journey for me to read through--the best and most terrible kind. I was given a new insight in each part. I saw, as Baldwin said, that the way it was in my ancestors' time is the way it is now. Finishing this book in this point in time may seem like destiny, but Baldwin would not be surprised at all. I remember reading The Fire Next Time after the advent of what would be (though it wasn't called that at the time) Black Lives Matter. His words puts it all together in a way few can do. Though I am, at heart, still an Ellisonian, I have more than enough room on board the train for James Baldwin. "Later, in the midnight hour, the missing identity aches. One can neither assess nor overcome the storm of the middle passage. One is mysteriously shipwrecked forever, in the Great New World. "The price the white American paid for his ticket was to become white--: and, in the main, nothing more than that, or, as he was to insist, nothing less. This incredibly limited not to say dimwitted ambition has choked many a human being to death here: and this, I contend, is because the white American has never accepted the real reasons for his journey. I know very well that my ancestors had no desire to come to this place: but neither did the ancestors of the people who became white and who require of my captivity a song. They require of me a song less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own." - "The Price of the Ticket" 1985.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    his essays really did change my life & the way i view everything around me. his writing makes me want to live, over and over and over again, with the biggest love (justice and liberation for all).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mario

    YES. The best volume of personal essays written by a single 20th century American author I've ever read. If you're on the fence about this joint, I'd suggest taking a trip to the library or Barnes & Nobles or wherever you do your book borrowing or shopping and flipping to the essay towards the back called "Nothing Personal." ...This essay is not available, to my knowledge, in any other volume bearing Baldwin's name; the superlatively good character of this essay, in my opinion, is a reflection of YES. The best volume of personal essays written by a single 20th century American author I've ever read. If you're on the fence about this joint, I'd suggest taking a trip to the library or Barnes & Nobles or wherever you do your book borrowing or shopping and flipping to the essay towards the back called "Nothing Personal." ...This essay is not available, to my knowledge, in any other volume bearing Baldwin's name; the superlatively good character of this essay, in my opinion, is a reflection of the literature contained withiin this handsome Libray of America-published volume.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John

    Baldwin is distinctly American. His style is powerful and lyrical. He writes from pain, disillusionment, and passion. His insights are profound, and reflect his deep thinking on the human condition. This is the kind of book you want to permanently add to your library. --John

  6. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    Maybe it's odd for a culturally caucasian half-Korean to identify with a gay black man from Harlem during the 50s, but maybe the sense of displacement and separateness that plagues Americans (or perhaps just myself, in those moments of ego when I'm prone to think of my life and my condition as uniquely troubling) is a universal feeling born from our existence as the "melting pot". Or maybe I just wish I had an ounce of Baldwin's ability to express ideas and beliefs in a clear and unpretentious m Maybe it's odd for a culturally caucasian half-Korean to identify with a gay black man from Harlem during the 50s, but maybe the sense of displacement and separateness that plagues Americans (or perhaps just myself, in those moments of ego when I'm prone to think of my life and my condition as uniquely troubling) is a universal feeling born from our existence as the "melting pot". Or maybe I just wish I had an ounce of Baldwin's ability to express ideas and beliefs in a clear and unpretentious manner.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    When Toni Morrison died, there were several men who proclaimed that the death of the great writer impacted them as greatly and in the same exact that it did Black women. Yep, they were white men. Let’s be honest, Morrison, while speaking to everyone and being accessible by everyone, wrote in particular for Black women. There is no way, none, that someone who is not a Black women can understand the loss in the same way. Now, it’s true that such statements can apply to a variety of authors. But i When Toni Morrison died, there were several men who proclaimed that the death of the great writer impacted them as greatly and in the same exact that it did Black women. Yep, they were white men. Let’s be honest, Morrison, while speaking to everyone and being accessible by everyone, wrote in particular for Black women. There is no way, none, that someone who is not a Black women can understand the loss in the same way. Now, it’s true that such statements can apply to a variety of authors. But it is always important to remember the truth of such statements when reviewing, when reading. In some ways, it is perhaps an unfair judgement. For instance, Morrison and Baldwin must speak to others besides those who are their intended audience because of gate keeping. Would Hemingway, say, have such a place in the canon if those choosing the canon at the time hadn’t been Hemingway’s ideal audience – straight, white men? While Hemingway must have been right about something (I’m not quite sure what, it certainly wasn’t women), Baldwin was right about everything. BALDWIN WAS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING. His ability and right to criticize America, as does any citizen’s, comes from the love that one bears towards the country. It’s Baldwin’s statement of love that throws the argument back in the face of those who like to call themselves patriots. He criticizes the protest novel that exists just as myth of the American Dream (think, for instance about the talk surrounding American Dirt) as well as the roles or lack therefore for Black people in Hollywood. Perhaps even more timely, he discusses multiple times the idea of freedom, and that “the country will not change until it re-examines what it really means by freedom” (179) as well as the use of the African-American population as other and scapegoat. He deals on the fact that American society does not trust educated people (see “Nobody Knows My Name” among others) and thus society does not only use education to keep the society segregation but also how it keeps the people subscribed and believing the myth of America – independence, freedom, and fairness. Considering not only the politicians who have attacked the 1619 Project as well as the words of Tom Cotton when the New York Times actually discussed the real first Thanksgiving – he was offended by history disrupting his myth – as Baldwin writes, “the break up of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave on an identity, the end of safety” (209), but that this intrusion of reality is needed if America is to be a new and better society. But it isn’t just race – Baldwin also addressed toxic masculinity as well as LGBT. He is not only of his time, before his time, and after his time. He is for all time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Suher

    I usually don't read for sentences particularly, but James Baldwin is very easily my favorite writer of sentences of all time, the perfect Republican diction, a mix of high and low inflected with KJV syntax, really, as far as I'm concerned, nobody does it better. I did not expect the collection to be so complete, but it was a good book to spend a few months with, to get into Baldwin's head and to feel his tangible pain as the civil rights movement faltered. Few people have been so honestly prick I usually don't read for sentences particularly, but James Baldwin is very easily my favorite writer of sentences of all time, the perfect Republican diction, a mix of high and low inflected with KJV syntax, really, as far as I'm concerned, nobody does it better. I did not expect the collection to be so complete, but it was a good book to spend a few months with, to get into Baldwin's head and to feel his tangible pain as the civil rights movement faltered. Few people have been so honestly prickly and transparently on edge, and few have also loved so hard. Also, reading the complete collection gave me the chance to read some unexpected gems not included in the main collections, like "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood" and "Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This is my 6th time through these essays and I learn something every single time. I don't know why anyone bothers to write anything at all after reading Baldwin. This is my 6th time through these essays and I learn something every single time. I don't know why anyone bothers to write anything at all after reading Baldwin.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam Gurri

    I had read one or two essays of James Baldwin's before I obtained this collection. "The White Man's Guilt" reached somewhere deep inside me, left me feeling not so much the titular guilt or accused, but relieved, relieved that someone could see so clearly something I had wrestled with in my life had existed, and written about it. I think some people, some white people such as myself that is, think Baldwin caustic, but it's clear to me that, even as pessimistic and cynical as he was (and had ever I had read one or two essays of James Baldwin's before I obtained this collection. "The White Man's Guilt" reached somewhere deep inside me, left me feeling not so much the titular guilt or accused, but relieved, relieved that someone could see so clearly something I had wrestled with in my life had existed, and written about it. I think some people, some white people such as myself that is, think Baldwin caustic, but it's clear to me that, even as pessimistic and cynical as he was (and had every reason to be), he was a merciful man. "The White Man's Guilt" is not an insult or an olive branch, but a genuine plea for people to step back and consider their souls, which they have allowed to fall into a sorry state through neglect and complacency. This collection contains within it other collections, "Notes of a Native Son," "Nobody Knows My Name," "The Fire Next Time," "No Name in the Street," and "The Devil Finds Work," in addition to about 150 pages of other essays and reviews Baldwin wrote. I started it at the beginning of January and have finished it at the beginning of August. During that time it was a wonderful companion, which I could pick up to read a few essays and put back down for a spell. What can I even say about such a collection that one could not learn from reading any one of Baldwin's great essays? As a writer, it is hard not to feel the sting of envy, not just because Baldwin is a genius wordsmith, but because he is so bold, so much more bold than I could ever imagine being. His politics are plain but it's an insult to the art of writing and the human experience to even utter the word "politics" in a review of James Baldwin; he reaches so much deeper than that, and the conservatives among my friends have been as or more delighted by the passages I have shared as I have read this as anyone else. He sought to reach deeper, and he succeeded. In the end this is a very good book because it is, to my knowledge, the largest collection of Baldwin essays that currently exists, and the more Baldwin you can get, the better. Any one of the collections contained within are worth reading on their own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emma Scott

    I have not read all of the essays yet, but I'm cleaning off my shelf since I'm not currently reading this book. I will absolutely revisit it, however, as I feel Baldwin understood and articulated racism better than anymore (that I've read anyway) with poetic, sharply intelligent prose. Just brilliant. I have not read all of the essays yet, but I'm cleaning off my shelf since I'm not currently reading this book. I will absolutely revisit it, however, as I feel Baldwin understood and articulated racism better than anymore (that I've read anyway) with poetic, sharply intelligent prose. Just brilliant.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Pau

    Very extensive collection (bless you, Toni Morrison) so some essays resonated less than others, but this was overall a deeply enriching read which only confirmed James Baldwin's place in my heart. (on a different note, my edition had an integrated ribbon bookmark and we NEED to bring that shit back) Very extensive collection (bless you, Toni Morrison) so some essays resonated less than others, but this was overall a deeply enriching read which only confirmed James Baldwin's place in my heart. (on a different note, my edition had an integrated ribbon bookmark and we NEED to bring that shit back)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Conner

    A woman I greatly admire introduced me to Baldwin's work. She gave me a copy of The Fire Next Time and I was instantly hooked. Baldwin manages to combine all of the sensibility of the New York intellectual while not losing his Southern roots. His prose is unlike anything. I wish more writers had his grasp of language and ability to be so honest. A woman I greatly admire introduced me to Baldwin's work. She gave me a copy of The Fire Next Time and I was instantly hooked. Baldwin manages to combine all of the sensibility of the New York intellectual while not losing his Southern roots. His prose is unlike anything. I wish more writers had his grasp of language and ability to be so honest.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tony Hynes

    My teacher gave me this book as a high school graduation present. I read it nearly everyday for the next two years. Baldwins' eloquence about harsh issues reminded me that if he could endure in his time, so could I in mine. His essays portray race in America as not a black or white problem, but as a human problem, one which he didn't think would be solved by marches or bus boycotts. My teacher gave me this book as a high school graduation present. I read it nearly everyday for the next two years. Baldwins' eloquence about harsh issues reminded me that if he could endure in his time, so could I in mine. His essays portray race in America as not a black or white problem, but as a human problem, one which he didn't think would be solved by marches or bus boycotts.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    It would be dishonest of me to give this book anything less than a five-star rating because its messages get repetitive after several hundred pages, or because Baldwin's writing sometimes gets so abstract as to be meaningless. Those are irrelevant to the fact that I can't remember the last time a book moved me so deeply. I won't bore you with any of the things in this book that came as revelations to me, since they might already be common sense for you, but suffice it to say that a lot of things It would be dishonest of me to give this book anything less than a five-star rating because its messages get repetitive after several hundred pages, or because Baldwin's writing sometimes gets so abstract as to be meaningless. Those are irrelevant to the fact that I can't remember the last time a book moved me so deeply. I won't bore you with any of the things in this book that came as revelations to me, since they might already be common sense for you, but suffice it to say that a lot of things make more sense to me now. As valuable as it might be, it's not actually necessary to read all 800+ pages of Baldwin's essays to understand what he's saying. I've read a lot of people who can't recommend The Fire Next Time highly enough, and I personally was shaken by "Fifth Avenue, Uptown," No Name in the Street , and "A Report from Occupied Territory." I'd recommend reading some or all of those if you haven't already.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fareeda

    It took me 6 months to read this 800+ page book. Not because of the length, but because I had to reflect on some of the essays. Reading this collection of essays was an eye opener for me. I only knew of James Baldwin as a gifted fiction writer. Through this collection of essays, I learned he was an activist; he had an active mind that explored just about every social topic and did an excellent job explaining it in black and white (literally and figuratively); about his childhood and his journey. It took me 6 months to read this 800+ page book. Not because of the length, but because I had to reflect on some of the essays. Reading this collection of essays was an eye opener for me. I only knew of James Baldwin as a gifted fiction writer. Through this collection of essays, I learned he was an activist; he had an active mind that explored just about every social topic and did an excellent job explaining it in black and white (literally and figuratively); about his childhood and his journey. I enjoyed reading the progression of (his writing) essays over a 30 yr period. If he were still alive, I would love to sit down and just talk to him, like I do with my grandfather.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Zach Barnhart

    "Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?" This was my first exposure to Baldwin's work. At first (with his earlier works) I had a hard time reading him. His style seemed to carry an air of hubris at times that was difficult for me, especially compared to other prominent voices for civil rights. But as Baldwin's work evolved, I felt egotism turned into command, aggravation into motivation. I saw Baldwin turn inward, and consider his own role in the human condition. He's definitely "Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?" This was my first exposure to Baldwin's work. At first (with his earlier works) I had a hard time reading him. His style seemed to carry an air of hubris at times that was difficult for me, especially compared to other prominent voices for civil rights. But as Baldwin's work evolved, I felt egotism turned into command, aggravation into motivation. I saw Baldwin turn inward, and consider his own role in the human condition. He's definitely one of the most brilliant writers of his time. If you read anything he wrote, read "The Fire Next Time." He will he remembered as a prophetic voice for civil rights for a long time to come.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ian Mathers

    Naturally enough, decades later there are small elements of these essays that are, one way or another, out of date; but unlike many older writings I can think of that still have value, I don't recall a single instance where Baldwin lapses into cruelty or cant in a way that indicates he wouldn't have been able to keep up with the times if he were still with us. The most depressing thing about his work, in the days of Ferguson, is just how timely it still is. A beautiful, inspiring writer of clear Naturally enough, decades later there are small elements of these essays that are, one way or another, out of date; but unlike many older writings I can think of that still have value, I don't recall a single instance where Baldwin lapses into cruelty or cant in a way that indicates he wouldn't have been able to keep up with the times if he were still with us. The most depressing thing about his work, in the days of Ferguson, is just how timely it still is. A beautiful, inspiring writer of clear vision and moral character, and a beautiful man.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Williams

    The book that makes me want to be a writer. The book I most regret giving away. And am most willing to buy and annotate again.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shelby Lynne

    Arguably one of the 10 best books of my life. Undeniably in the top 25.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I cannot praise this book too much. I was quite literally blown away. The man was brilliant, and at his best, relentlessly honest and remarkably perceptive, not to mention, that he was also an extraordinary writer. The recent movie, "I'm Not your Negro," doesn't do him justice. A random excerpt: "One of the reasons I had fought so hard, after all, was to wrest from the world fame and money and love. And here I was, at thirty-two, finding my notoriety hard to bear, since its principal effect was t I cannot praise this book too much. I was quite literally blown away. The man was brilliant, and at his best, relentlessly honest and remarkably perceptive, not to mention, that he was also an extraordinary writer. The recent movie, "I'm Not your Negro," doesn't do him justice. A random excerpt: "One of the reasons I had fought so hard, after all, was to wrest from the world fame and money and love. And here I was, at thirty-two, finding my notoriety hard to bear, since its principal effect was to make me more lonely; money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn't have it and thought of other things if you did; and love, as far as I could see, was over. Love seemed to be over not merely because an affair was ending; it would have seemed to be over under any circumstances; for it was the dream of love which was ending. I was beginning to realize, most unwillingly, all the things love could not do. It could not make me over, for example It could not undo the journey which had made of me such a strange man and brought me to such a strange place." He is extraordinary when describing others he has known or his own history. He is often, famously, insightful regarding black and white relations, based on his assumption not that they are two separate entities but they are both Americans, both reflections of each other. Toward his last essays -- and in The Fire Next Time, which I had loved as a young man -- he is taken over by his own rhetoric. But when he is not being rhetorical, he is wise, wonderful, and perceptive. His descriptions of people he had known, Martin Luther King (not the description that appeared in the movie), Norman Mailer, Malcolm X, Loraine Hansberry, and others are intimate, revealing, and kind. His language references the Bible (he was a preacher as a teenager), the blues, jazz, and, in style, Henry James. The book is quite long: over 800 pages. I may have skipped five, so that I read it from cover to cover. I think of it as obligatory for any American.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Quentin

    Where to start? James Baldwin was brilliant, compassionate, funny (yeah, really funny), and put his mind towards all manner of subjects in his writing. Movies, politics, music, sex, religion, family, culture---all receive incisive and poetic analysis in this collection. I knew his work by reputation only--unfortunately, he wasn't taught in any of the schools I've attended. But I'm grateful that I sought him out. His understanding of American culture--and particularly the fundamental contradictio Where to start? James Baldwin was brilliant, compassionate, funny (yeah, really funny), and put his mind towards all manner of subjects in his writing. Movies, politics, music, sex, religion, family, culture---all receive incisive and poetic analysis in this collection. I knew his work by reputation only--unfortunately, he wasn't taught in any of the schools I've attended. But I'm grateful that I sought him out. His understanding of American culture--and particularly the fundamental contradictions of America between actual inequality and professed equality--is indispensable. Oh yeah, and he writes about Race, too.

  23. 5 out of 5

    BHodges

    Baldwin is as excellent a writer as he is insightful. It's unsettling how relevant so many of his works are in 2017. Baldwin is as excellent a writer as he is insightful. It's unsettling how relevant so many of his works are in 2017.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell Hahn-Branson

    "It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with a "It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now." —Closing paragraph to "Notes of a Native Son" I'm just going to say it: James Baldwin was the greatest and most important American thinker of the twentieth century. His nonfiction gave us the clearest, most incisive, most unsparing, and yet most compassionate view of race, racism, and moral justice available within the limits of the written word. He may yet have provided us with a means of saving ourselves, but that, of course, depends on us.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Well, I have finished the essays in Notes of a Native Son. I had read some of them before, of course--the title essay, and "Stranger in the Village", and, as part of a study of Uncle Tom's Cabin, "Everybody's Protest Novel." But now I've read the other, less anthologized, more topical essays in this one collection as well. Reading them along with his biography, by his friend David Leeming, is interesting, the biography providing helpful context. In "Many Thousand Gone," about Richard Wright's Na Well, I have finished the essays in Notes of a Native Son. I had read some of them before, of course--the title essay, and "Stranger in the Village", and, as part of a study of Uncle Tom's Cabin, "Everybody's Protest Novel." But now I've read the other, less anthologized, more topical essays in this one collection as well. Reading them along with his biography, by his friend David Leeming, is interesting, the biography providing helpful context. In "Many Thousand Gone," about Richard Wright's Native Son, Baldwin does, strangely, write as if he were a white person. "Equal in Paris" is a description of the time he was put in jail in Paris. "Encounter on the Seine" is about black Americans and black Africans in Paris. "Journey to Atlanta" is about--well, the meaninglessness of politics for black people, the shallowness of white support for black lives. Also his brothers' experiences in a singing group. I read Giovanni's Room, in an air bnb with a blue kitchen and windows looking out over the rooftops of Paris, and this biography has helped me understand it better. Recently I read If Beale Street Could Talk. Next I will start Nobody Knows My Name. But not the copy pictured here, my dad's 1963 copy with his small markings.

  26. 5 out of 5

    GiGi

    Baldwin's honesty and smarts on full display here. Can be exhaustingly verbose at times, but everything I read in here was worth it. His analyses of America are absolutely cutting and struck a chord in me that I wasn't even really aware of. I would like to make it known that the notes(they're not even footnotes, which I guess is a Library of America thing) for this edition are honestly not great, which is surprising, as it was edited by Toni Morrison. Not sure what happened there. Baldwin's honesty and smarts on full display here. Can be exhaustingly verbose at times, but everything I read in here was worth it. His analyses of America are absolutely cutting and struck a chord in me that I wasn't even really aware of. I would like to make it known that the notes(they're not even footnotes, which I guess is a Library of America thing) for this edition are honestly not great, which is surprising, as it was edited by Toni Morrison. Not sure what happened there.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Finally finished this monumental collection of righteous polemic and astute diagnosis right now, in 2021, just as a new era promises better things in America. But what is wrong with America is what exercised Uncle Jimmy for decades, and led to such stirring and anguished cries from the heart as The Fire Next Time and No Name in the Street. The autobiography contained in Notes of a Native Son also commands attention. Also, thoughts on and little jewel-like appreciations of Earl Hines, Ingmar Berg Finally finished this monumental collection of righteous polemic and astute diagnosis right now, in 2021, just as a new era promises better things in America. But what is wrong with America is what exercised Uncle Jimmy for decades, and led to such stirring and anguished cries from the heart as The Fire Next Time and No Name in the Street. The autobiography contained in Notes of a Native Son also commands attention. Also, thoughts on and little jewel-like appreciations of Earl Hines, Ingmar Bergman, and others. Everyone black or white needs to read this.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda Margaret

    I really like Baldwin's essays about his time in Europe, although I also enjoyed his explanation of the riots in New York. He writes about his experiences in the Alps and being arrested in France. Anyone who has been abroad knows that not knowing the expectations that others have for you in a foreign environment and, worse, being thrown on their mercy when you are so completely clueless, can be really scary. Baldwin captures the emotions of these experiences very well and dissects them in a thou I really like Baldwin's essays about his time in Europe, although I also enjoyed his explanation of the riots in New York. He writes about his experiences in the Alps and being arrested in France. Anyone who has been abroad knows that not knowing the expectations that others have for you in a foreign environment and, worse, being thrown on their mercy when you are so completely clueless, can be really scary. Baldwin captures the emotions of these experiences very well and dissects them in a thoughtful, provoking manner.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Don

    It is frightening and depressing to read these fifty- year old essays and understand how little has changed in white people’s self superiority and self loathing. From “The Fire Next Time”: ‘It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself. That is not a mystical statement but the most realistic one, which is proved by the eyes of any Alabama sheriff – and I would not like to see Negroes ever arrive at so wretched a condition.’ Subst It is frightening and depressing to read these fifty- year old essays and understand how little has changed in white people’s self superiority and self loathing. From “The Fire Next Time”: ‘It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself. That is not a mystical statement but the most realistic one, which is proved by the eyes of any Alabama sheriff – and I would not like to see Negroes ever arrive at so wretched a condition.’ Substitute Alabama sheriff with Minneapolis cop. We have not moved forward.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shaun

    I admit I must not be a very smart man, because a lot of the book sounded like mumbo jumbo. There was one good sentence amongst pages of fluff, and a good idea between a bunch of convoluted nothingness. I wound up tiring of all the constant race talk, everything black this, black that, and so little in the way of substantive things to say, or ideas about a way forward. It was exhausting. Rating, a thin, dim, two stars.

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