Badass Writer of the Week: James Baldwin

  James Baldwin

James Baldwin

By Sean Tuohy

Not all badass writers are rough, tough, people of action (example: Nora Ephron). A true badass writer is one who is willing to stand up for what he or she believes in, to stay strong during turbulent times, and always comes out on top.

James Baldwin was a true writer; a man who brought the world to life whenever his pen touched paper. Baldwin's work brought to light hot button issues, such as sex, race, and economic disparity between social groups, during radical change in America. Throughout his life, whenever he was not busy writing novel-length essays, Baldwin fought for social change and was a major part of the Civil Rights movement.

Okay, can we point out that James Baldwin was an openly gay black man fighting for change in 1950s and 1960s America? Do you know how hard that is? Baldwin lived in a time when the southern part of the United States was socially stuck in 1859 and in some states it was still legal to lynch a black man. Also, being openly gay was no easy play back then for anyone of any color. Despite all the hate that was sent Baldwin's way, he never changed who or what he was. He simply embraced it.

Baldwin had a rough start. He was born in Harlem to a drug addict father. His mother later got remarried to a preacher who was abusive toward Baldwin and his siblings. Baldwin was a decent student, but found school boring. It wasn’t until Baldwin was 15 years old that he began exploring the new age neighborhood of Greenwich Village. It was here, living among artist and thinkers, that Baldwin started contemplating the struggles of African-Americans and confronting his own sexuality. During this time, he also met actor Marlon Brando and the two became friends.

Wait, what?! Why did those two not make a sitcom together?

Baldwin worked odd jobs during the day, and at night he would write. In 1955, he published his first work Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin's writing was thoughtful and always looked to expand the mindset of his reader. During the 1950s he tired of the racial tension within the United States and moved to France for several years.

When Baldwin returned to the United States, the Civil Rights movement was just beginning. Baldwin threw himself right in the middle of it and began recruiting, interviewing people, and writing essays. Baldwin gave several noted speeches during this time, the most famous of which was "The Latest Slave Rebellion" at UC Berkeley. He also partnered with Malcom X during this time.

Baldwin died of cancer in 1987 at his home in France and was later laid to rest near New York City. He used his talent to share his outlook on the world and to share the fear, anger, and wonder he felt thought out his life.

Despite a lifetime of being mistreated for what he was and what he believed in, James Baldwin did the most badass thing a person can do: He accepted who he was and lived one hell of a life.

BADASS WRITERS OF THE WEEK ARCHIVE