A new edition of the book many have called James Baldwin’s most influential work
Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in “The Harlem Ghetto” to a sobering “Journey to Atlanta.”
Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright’s work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.
Notes is the book that established Baldwin’s voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin’s own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
About the Author
James Baldwin (1924-1987) burst on the literary scene in 1953 with his novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, which received excellent reviews and immediately was recognized as establishing a profound new voice in American letters. His acclaimed collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, was published in 1955. A second collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name, was published in 1961 between his novels Giovanni's Room (1956) and Another Country (1961).
Edward P. Jones, the New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton. He lives in Washington, D.C.
“The wonderful thing about writers like Baldwin is the way we read them and come across passages that are so arresting we become breathless and have to raise our eyes from the page to keep from being spirited away.”
—Edward P. Jones, from his new introduction
“Written with bitter clarity and uncommon grace.”
“A straight-from-the-shoulder writer, writing about the troubled problems of this troubled earth with an illuminating intensity.”
—Langston Hughes, The New York Times Book Review
“He named for me the things you feel but couldn’t utter . . . articulated for the first time to white America what it meant to be American and a black American at the same time.”
—Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“I owe a tremendous debt to the example of his work.”
—John Edgar Wideman
“Baldwin’s vision, his humor, his tragically beautiful style, make this a book [to] . . . turn to for a long time.”
—Kay Boyle, The American Scholar