James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) was an American novelist and social critic. He wrote a number of essays, including three of book-length, the first of which was The Fire Next Time (1963). Baldwin’s work tackles issues of race and sexuality – primarily the social barriers preventing full integration into society for African Americans and gay or bisexual people. At the age of 24, Baldwin moved to France in search of a life free from the confines placed upon him by American society due to his ethnicity and sexuality. He lived overseas for a large part of his life, but returned to the United States during the late 1950s and 1960s to participate in the civil rights movement, although even within this work he found himself sidelined due to his sexuality. In 1987, James Baldwin died of cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, and was buried in Hartsdale, New York.
The Fire Next Time contains two essays: “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation” and “Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind”. “My Dungeon Shook” addresses the anger and frustration felt by younger African Americans with the hope that these understandable but negative motivating forces can be superseded by calmer ambitions. “Down At the Cross” examines the role of Christianity in American society, and in that society’s treatment and view of African Americans, as well as the emergence of the Black Muslim movement.
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