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Baldwin, James

JACQUES COULARDEAU

Subject Imperial, Colonial, and Postcolonial History » Postcolonial History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444334982.2016.x


Extract

Born on August 2, 1924 in Harlem, New York, James Baldwin was an African American essayist, novelist, playwright, and social critic. Through his work, he explored possible escape routes for black Americans, via music, literature, and his own gay sexuality. When he was only a child, his mother divorced his father and remarried the fundamentalist preacher David Baldwin, who was very strict with his stepson in a context of great poverty. His stepfather died of tuberculosis in July 1943 and was buried on James's nineteenth birthday, just before the birth of his youngest sister. He had three brothers and five sisters, all named in the dedication of his book Just Above My Head (1979). Baldwin moved to France in 1948, and lived chiefly in Paris. He died on December 1, 1987 in Saint-Paul de Vence, France. Baldwin was against the type of apocalyptic religion that his stepfather preached. This religious vision emerged as a result of the extreme exploitation of black slaves in America, under which they were totally depersonalized. In this view, blacks (Baldwin systematically uses the word “Negro”) find their inspiration in the Old Testament and in the fate of the Jews in Egypt waiting for Moses to free them. Whites are the guilty party: their actions cannot be forgiven or forgotten. Judgment Day is close: the bad will be punished, the good will be rewarded. Followers of this type of religion ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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