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Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin

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Baldwin's Harlem is an intimate portrait of the life and genius of one of our most brilliant literary minds: James Baldwin. Perhaps no other writer is as synonymous with Harlem as James Baldwin (1924-1987). The events there that shaped his youth greatly influenced Baldwin's work, much of which focused on his experiences as a black man in white America. Go Tell It on the Mo Baldwin's Harlem is an intimate portrait of the life and genius of one of our most brilliant literary minds: James Baldwin. Perhaps no other writer is as synonymous with Harlem as James Baldwin (1924-1987). The events there that shaped his youth greatly influenced Baldwin's work, much of which focused on his experiences as a black man in white America. Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, and Giovanni's Room are just a few of his classic fiction and nonfiction books that remain an essential part of the American canon. In Baldwin's Harlem, award-winning journalist Herb Boyd combines impeccable biographical research with astute literary criticism, and reveals to readers Baldwin's association with Harlem on both metaphorical and realistic levels. For example, Boyd describes Baldwin's relationship with Harlem Renaissance poet laureate Countee Cullen, who taught Baldwin French in the ninth grade. Packed with telling anecdotes, Baldwin's Harlem illuminates the writer's diverse views and impressions of the community that would remain a consistent presence in virtually all of his writing. Baldwin's Harlem provides an intelligent and enlightening look at one of America's most important literary enclaves.


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Baldwin's Harlem is an intimate portrait of the life and genius of one of our most brilliant literary minds: James Baldwin. Perhaps no other writer is as synonymous with Harlem as James Baldwin (1924-1987). The events there that shaped his youth greatly influenced Baldwin's work, much of which focused on his experiences as a black man in white America. Go Tell It on the Mo Baldwin's Harlem is an intimate portrait of the life and genius of one of our most brilliant literary minds: James Baldwin. Perhaps no other writer is as synonymous with Harlem as James Baldwin (1924-1987). The events there that shaped his youth greatly influenced Baldwin's work, much of which focused on his experiences as a black man in white America. Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, and Giovanni's Room are just a few of his classic fiction and nonfiction books that remain an essential part of the American canon. In Baldwin's Harlem, award-winning journalist Herb Boyd combines impeccable biographical research with astute literary criticism, and reveals to readers Baldwin's association with Harlem on both metaphorical and realistic levels. For example, Boyd describes Baldwin's relationship with Harlem Renaissance poet laureate Countee Cullen, who taught Baldwin French in the ninth grade. Packed with telling anecdotes, Baldwin's Harlem illuminates the writer's diverse views and impressions of the community that would remain a consistent presence in virtually all of his writing. Baldwin's Harlem provides an intelligent and enlightening look at one of America's most important literary enclaves.

30 review for Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin

  1. 5 out of 5

    Banole

    Herb Boyd gives us a gossipy biography of Baldwin that somehow works. Boyd is sure to deeply confuse, offend and anger those who take into consideration "the white gaze" -as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison so delicately puts it. Boyd seems to unconsciously ignore the"white gaze". Boyd admits that he really didn't know Baldwin personally. Yet Boyd skillfully uses Baldwins writings and interviews with Baldwins friends and acquaintances to weave his narrative. A large amount of personal opinion and obs Herb Boyd gives us a gossipy biography of Baldwin that somehow works. Boyd is sure to deeply confuse, offend and anger those who take into consideration "the white gaze" -as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison so delicately puts it. Boyd seems to unconsciously ignore the"white gaze". Boyd admits that he really didn't know Baldwin personally. Yet Boyd skillfully uses Baldwins writings and interviews with Baldwins friends and acquaintances to weave his narrative. A large amount of personal opinion and observation is thrown in. I think Boyd illuminates much of the criticism of Baldwin and his work by Stanley Crouch, Cleaver, Ismael Reed, Harold Cruse, Albert Murray and so many, many more. Underneath all the sometime skillfully written and spoken rhetoric, underneath and around all of that criticism of Baldwin and his work are strong elements of jealousy and envy of his international fame and literary success. A mere high school graduate from the Harlem "ghetto"! Baldwin rose to the top of America's intellectual pyramid not by getting a PhD or a Masters or a BA. Not by knowing the "right" people. He rose by hard work, deep study and the favor of the Gods and Goddesses. Baldwin was not allowed to speak at the March on Washington because it was well known that Baldwin would tell it the way he saw it. There was no way that Baldwin could be handed a script and be expected to read it verbatim! Baldwin's habit of speaking the truth and being a witness certainly got him into trouble with some sections of the Jewish community. I read somewhere, I can't remember when or where, but I think it was in some interview that Baldwin gave this response to a question: "Nothing you can say can justify the founding of the state of Israel.......". So I am not surprised by cries of "anti-antisemitism". Although there is certainly no justification for this. Boyd handles this situation well. As the sixties fade deeper and deeper into history, we must remember the "boldness and audaciousness " of that beautiful time when James Baldwin carried our voices of protest to the world. American terrorism, often fully supported by local, state and federal agencies against black people in the south and in other places could not over come the raw courage of James Baldwin. All of the murders, bombing, burning, death threats and mob violence directed at small school children could not silence Baldwin. In the words of Paul Laurence Dunbar : " He dared the lightning in the lightning's track. And answered thunder with his thunder back." Like Herb Boyd, most of us of African ancestry living in this country did not know James Baldwin personally either-but most of us knew some one who made us think of James Baldwin or some one who reminded us of him. We know or knew somebody kind of like Baldwin-because he was-as he said- "the poet that we produced". Have you seen any of the videos of his funeral? His funeral in Harlem told us again who he was and where he came from. THUMBS UP!! Herb Boyd!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rodrigue Ronald

    As a Baldwin enthusiast, it is humbling to have my bubble burst about the man and realize who he was, especially when coming from a narrative which is not his own. I like reading this biography and the insights, it gives on Baldwin's reluctance on joining the civil rights movements in its early days,on his family life and of course of the many rivalries he had with other famous writers of his time. Al through a great book to enjoy, but if you are a Baldwin's fan you might come off a bit unease a As a Baldwin enthusiast, it is humbling to have my bubble burst about the man and realize who he was, especially when coming from a narrative which is not his own. I like reading this biography and the insights, it gives on Baldwin's reluctance on joining the civil rights movements in its early days,on his family life and of course of the many rivalries he had with other famous writers of his time. Al through a great book to enjoy, but if you are a Baldwin's fan you might come off a bit unease at how mortal the man was indeed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Floyd

    Herb Boyd approaches "Baldwin's Harlem" with far too much interest in himself and not enough commitment to his craft. In fact, there's hardly any sense of Baldwin here at all. Even as Boyd explicitly traces the author's trajectory through Harlem, from youth to prominence, the biographical narrative reads more like a congested chronology than an exploration of environment and being.Instead we hear Boyd's voice delivering Baldwin's legacy in a manner so riddled with conjecture and assumption that Herb Boyd approaches "Baldwin's Harlem" with far too much interest in himself and not enough commitment to his craft. In fact, there's hardly any sense of Baldwin here at all. Even as Boyd explicitly traces the author's trajectory through Harlem, from youth to prominence, the biographical narrative reads more like a congested chronology than an exploration of environment and being.Instead we hear Boyd's voice delivering Baldwin's legacy in a manner so riddled with conjecture and assumption that it feels more like a research proposal than biography proper. Pick up this book if you're looking for a reference point, not a completed work.

  4. 4 out of 5

    GLF

    Realistically 3.5 stars is more accurate. This book really isn't a 'biography' as such, but more an investigation in into the effect growing up in "Harlem" had on James Baldwin as a writer and on the fiction and non-fiction he wrote over the years . There is a chronology of major events in Baldwin's life at the end of the book, which contrasts with the main text which seems to leap frog around various parts of Baldwin's life. The two "interviews" also provide an insight into Baldwin the man that i Realistically 3.5 stars is more accurate. This book really isn't a 'biography' as such, but more an investigation in into the effect growing up in "Harlem" had on James Baldwin as a writer and on the fiction and non-fiction he wrote over the years . There is a chronology of major events in Baldwin's life at the end of the book, which contrasts with the main text which seems to leap frog around various parts of Baldwin's life. The two "interviews" also provide an insight into Baldwin the man that is lacking in the main text. The author's main issue seems to be that there have already been a number of biographies of James Baldwin that have adequately told the story of his life. This book is more about Baldwin growing up in Harlem and the effect that his 'environment' affected him.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sam Motes

    This was an interesting look into the events and people who influenced the making of the mind and soul of the man who gave the world so many beautiful works. It is not just a glowing one sided view of Baldwin but tackles his brushes with antisemitism and antichristian beliefs as he struggled to deal with the oppression of his people.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Oksana

    Firstly, if you are looking for a biography this is not it. It's drivel, not so veiled homophobia, and more than half is just quotations. And worse, most of it is conjecture and opinion, not even well thought out or well written opinion. This author loves to hear himself speak and considering he inserted pages and pages his own interviews in there, you can tell just how much he loves himself. Firstly, if you are looking for a biography this is not it. It's drivel, not so veiled homophobia, and more than half is just quotations. And worse, most of it is conjecture and opinion, not even well thought out or well written opinion. This author loves to hear himself speak and considering he inserted pages and pages his own interviews in there, you can tell just how much he loves himself.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    This wasn't really the book I wanted to read. more of a portrait of Baldwin and his critics than a linear biography of Baldwin and his early life in Harlem. This wasn't really the book I wanted to read. more of a portrait of Baldwin and his critics than a linear biography of Baldwin and his early life in Harlem.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    A scattered book of anecdotes and historical references. Helpful if you already know a lot about Baldwin, but not particularly enlightening.

  9. 4 out of 5

    J'Aime 'James'

    I have to agree with Brandon's review of the book. As a Harlemite, I was hoping to have more insight into a legendary Harlem writer and the neighborhood in which he was raised. Instead I found this book to be more centered on Boyd than Baldwin and in a language that read like a senior thesis. I also feel it might have been better if the writer had written the book as a chronological biography as opposed to a topical biography. I have to agree with Brandon's review of the book. As a Harlemite, I was hoping to have more insight into a legendary Harlem writer and the neighborhood in which he was raised. Instead I found this book to be more centered on Boyd than Baldwin and in a language that read like a senior thesis. I also feel it might have been better if the writer had written the book as a chronological biography as opposed to a topical biography.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Demetria

    This was the first (and so far only) James Baldwin bio I've ever read. I do know that a handful of very good Baldwin bios exist, so I thought this was a pretty worthwhile and unique perspective to choose. Perhaps because other bios exist, this one is fairly dense, but pretty light on pages. I learned a lot of interesting things about Baldwin and reading it has made me more interested in reading some of the meatier bios. This was the first (and so far only) James Baldwin bio I've ever read. I do know that a handful of very good Baldwin bios exist, so I thought this was a pretty worthwhile and unique perspective to choose. Perhaps because other bios exist, this one is fairly dense, but pretty light on pages. I learned a lot of interesting things about Baldwin and reading it has made me more interested in reading some of the meatier bios.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Liz Murray

    This is the first James Baldwin bio I've read and I did learn a bit more about him that I haven't read in his non-fiction. I found myself skimming a bit near the end though. Baldwin is such a masterful writer that it must be difficult for another writer to do him justice. I'm not sure if I'll rush to another Baldwin bio anytime soon, my preference is to reach for a Baldwin original and thankfully there's quite a bit of his work I'm still to read. This is the first James Baldwin bio I've read and I did learn a bit more about him that I haven't read in his non-fiction. I found myself skimming a bit near the end though. Baldwin is such a masterful writer that it must be difficult for another writer to do him justice. I'm not sure if I'll rush to another Baldwin bio anytime soon, my preference is to reach for a Baldwin original and thankfully there's quite a bit of his work I'm still to read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    I enjoyed reading this book that revolves around Baldwin's personal and artistic connection to Harlem. The author is clearly partisan and defends Baldwin tooth and nail from the literary and political attacks that he was on the receiving end of throughout his life. However, the book is a worth while read because of Baldwin, a great writer, a fascinating figure, and an immense literary life. I enjoyed reading this book that revolves around Baldwin's personal and artistic connection to Harlem. The author is clearly partisan and defends Baldwin tooth and nail from the literary and political attacks that he was on the receiving end of throughout his life. However, the book is a worth while read because of Baldwin, a great writer, a fascinating figure, and an immense literary life.

  13. 5 out of 5

    KL Dilley

    I reeeeealllly couldn't get through this book. I should have been able to because it's about James Baldwin in Harlem. How could that not be captivating? Well it wasn't. Right in the intro Boyd comes across a bit Rick Warrenish and from there it went down an unfortunate road. Too bad. I reeeeealllly couldn't get through this book. I should have been able to because it's about James Baldwin in Harlem. How could that not be captivating? Well it wasn't. Right in the intro Boyd comes across a bit Rick Warrenish and from there it went down an unfortunate road. Too bad.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jewell

    Informative book about Baldwin's relationship with Harlem and the influence it had on his writings. The book also introduced me to other African American intellectuals who were contemporaries of Baldwin. Their opinions of him and his works were substantial.. Informative book about Baldwin's relationship with Harlem and the influence it had on his writings. The book also introduced me to other African American intellectuals who were contemporaries of Baldwin. Their opinions of him and his works were substantial..

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mario King

    I thought the book was intriguing. Mr. Boyd did a good job of painting a portrait of Baldwin's Harlem. It was a good backdrop into the life and thoughts of Mr. James Baldwin. Good read!!! I thought the book was intriguing. Mr. Boyd did a good job of painting a portrait of Baldwin's Harlem. It was a good backdrop into the life and thoughts of Mr. James Baldwin. Good read!!!

  16. 5 out of 5

    A_nyrican

    This is the most intimate autobiography on James Baldwin and the fascinating ever-changing period of Harlem Renaissance I have read so far. I will add more to this review at a later time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    The book is a very good read, I did want to get more of a sense of intimacy from the author about Baldwin, but still enjoyed it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steven Spector

    Read in conjunction with better subject bios. This is more issue-based than one might like and comes in at about 200pp in big print and small sized-pages.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    well-researched but a little flat. it's hard to read a book about the best American writer by a writer who is just ok... read it if you're a hardcore james baldwin fan. well-researched but a little flat. it's hard to read a book about the best American writer by a writer who is just ok... read it if you're a hardcore james baldwin fan.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Isabella

    At this moment in my life Balwdin is my inspiration. Interesting read. I learned a lot about the complicated, beautiful and torn being that was Baldwin.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

  22. 5 out of 5

    Desmond

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lois BL

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hollie Majdan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Judith Grace

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wes

  28. 5 out of 5

    M- S__

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

  30. 5 out of 5

    jennet wheatstonelllsl

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