Notes of a Native Son
Publication Date: November 20, 2012
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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.
James Baldwin (1924–1987) was one of America’s foremost writers. He is the author of several novels and books of nonfiction, including Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen, as well as a book of poetry, Jimmy’s Blues.
Edward P. Jones is the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Known World. He won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award for his debut collection of stories, Lost in the City. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Protests in Ferguson, Mo., continue in response to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police on Aug. 9. The incident reminds author Laila Lalami of James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son. More at NPR.org
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“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