Queer Icon: James Baldwin (1924-1987)

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By Kyle Parker

James Baldwin

Born in New York in 1924, Baldwin came from a large family. As a young teenager, he skipped school and explored Greenwich Village, ultimately meeting artists that would encourage his creative process. As a writer, Baldwin used his work to explore the various ins and outs of the black experience in America. Some of his more prominent books include Go Tell It On The Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, and Giovanni's Room. Giovanni's Room caused a lot of backlash for its explicit homosexual undertones and such topics as LGBTQ+ spaces, masculinity, and sexual identity. While controversial, Giovanni's Room still propelled Baldwin forward as a writer. But despite his success, Baldwin couldn't escape the harsh reality of American racism, which ultimately caused him to move to Paris. In Paris, Baldwin met various other artists who shared a similar experience in America, like singer and bisexual icon Nina Simone. Their shared experiences would create a dialogue about American racism that is still discussed and battled to this day.

Besides being a writer, Baldwin was also very active in the civil rights movement. Though Paris became his home, he frequently returned to America to work with leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in their work for racial equality.

As a black gay man, Baldwin drew upon the many intersections of his identity to create work that was authentic to him as a person. Not only did James Baldwin create a seat at the table for himself, he became the center point for inspiration for others who have come after him.