He Told It on the Mountain

"James Baldwin" Watercolor on paper. Copyright 2013 Totsymae

“James Baldwin” Watercolor on paper. Copyright 2013 Totsymae

I used to read James Baldwin in high school. I didn’t understand much about what I read but I did with time and age. I’d long before discovered other African-American writers in 7th grade. When I came upon them, because they weren’t introduced to me early on in school, I thought I came upon a gold mine.

Now, Baldwin was quite eloquent with language. I thought I was smart for reading his work. He was also the writer to challenge Maya Angelou to write her biography as literature. She met the challenge and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was born.

My aunt, whose husband was in the military, met Baldwin in Paris, where he relocated. He was downright tired of the racism in America and lived out his days in France. I don’t know if my aunt was at his apartment or where she was when she met him. I knew that must’ve been a treat for her because she was sharp and worked at the Library of Congress where folk register their titles.

If you think you might delve into Baldwins’ work, try If Beale Street Could Talk, which I found to be an easier read than his later works. You may also be interested in his essays. Folk who read essays are real smart, I think. I read them sometimes, therefore, I’m smart some of the time too.

I’m not sure when Baldwin appeared on this particular episode of Dave Cavett’s show. He was, however, speaking for the time. Not only was Mr Baldwin a novelist and essayist, he also wrote plays. One was entitled Go Tell It on the Mountain.

You can learn more about James Baldwin at Biography.com.


31 thoughts on “He Told It on the Mountain

  1. I loved If Beale Street Could Talk & Go Tell It on the Mountain. I also like his essay, “If Black English Isn’t a Language.” Baldwin was a very prolific writer, the E. Lynn Harris of his times. I think someone mentioned him on Twitter this week and asked what would he say about the state of the world today as it pertains to being black and gay. Great portrait of him.


    • Thank you.
      His is the kinda writing you want as a book, not on a Kindle or some other eReader. I’m not famailiar with If Black English….Seems relevant to read today but I think most of his work is.


  2. I was in college in Greensboro, NC, when “The Fire Next Time” was published. Everybody I knew had a copy. I suspect that it was the most widely-read book on college campuses at that time and one of the most widely-read today. He made a real difference to young people, and his book informed my world view for the rest of my life. Your portrait is really fine, Totsy.


  3. James Baldwin was feared by many when I was growing up, perhaps feared more than some of those working so diligently within the Civil Rights movement of the time. Why? Because he spoke through books and theater, he spoke to a different set of people, in some cases those who were not being accessed through other means he raised awareness and brought them in.

    In my late teens I was gifted with his Native Son essays, I have replaced them twice as the originals have been lost in moves. He was an eloquent writer, I loved his poems which many people forget he wrote.

    Your painting is wonderful, your portrayal of this talented man spot on. Loved the Dick Cavett clip. Thanks for this one.


    • Thank you.
      I will have to look up his poetry. I’m not familiar. With his gift for language, I’m sure his poetry is just as brilliant. And while on the subject, I will have to browse the library and re-read some of his work.


  4. One of my favorite writers! His language just wraps itself around you and stays with you for days. I read If Beale Street Could Talk years ago and Giovanni’s Room. I’ve also started No Name in the Street a million times!


  5. Been meaning to read Go Tell It On the Mountain since I started reading his essays in college. Love him and his work! And of course, I love yours too. Miss being around these parts of bloggie land. xo


  6. “Some idealism which I have never seen”. Bam! Love me some JB! The portrait captures an often seen cynicism (for good reason) in James Baldwin. I’m very fond of the essay form and James Baldwin in particular. Thanks for a reminder of his eloquence and dedication to the issues he wrote so aptly about.


  7. Pingback: If Beale Street Could Talk | Lisa Spiral Reads

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