Today’s Doodle, created by guest artist Jon Key, a resident of New York City, honours civil rights pioneer and writer James Baldwin in celebration of U.S. Black History Month. Baldwin used his pen to candidly discuss the racial, socioeconomic, and sexual issues that he faced as well as other social and personal issues of the day.
On August 2, 1924, Baldwin was born in New York City. He helped in raising his eight siblings while growing up in Harlem. As a young teenager, he became a junior minister at a Harlem church by following in the footsteps of his stepfather. Additionally, he became active in the school magazine, writing plays, poems, and short stories. His time spent on the magazine refined his writing abilities and solidified his love of the craft.
He took on various jobs in his late teens and early 20s to help support his family and simultaneously followed his dream to compose a novel. Baldwin was awarded a fellowship in 1944 because of his literary promise, but it took him 12 years to complete his first book because he struggled with its composition. Go Tell It on the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical tale that is currently considered as one of the greatest books produced in the English language in the 20th century.
Baldwin decided to move to Paris in order to look for another fellowship when he was 24 years old. His ability to write more freely about his own experiences was aided by his distance from New York. Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time are just a few of the writings he wrote. His portrayals of Black masculinity in America were revolutionary and poetic, and they had an impact well beyond Black communities. In 1956, he published Giovanni’s Room, his second book. The book was among the first to bring sophisticated portrayals of homosexuality into popular culture, long before the gay liberation movement became well-established.
Baldwin continued in writing articles and novels that directly addressed racial tensions in America in the years that followed. He authored the sad love story If Beale Street Could Talk, set in Harlem, in 1974. Later, the story was turned into a 2018 Academy Award–winning film.
The highest French award for merit, the Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur, was given to Baldwin in 1986. Numerous honours were bestowed upon him both during and after his lifetime. However, Baldwin’s influence goes far beyond any award; via his writings, he gave voice to those whose stories were frequently ignored and motivated a number of civil rights activists to champion social justice causes that had an effect on future generations.
James Baldwin, we are grateful for your enormous contributions to the canon of literature. Your voice has influenced the way we think about identity and social justice issues.