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Library Journal Review
Born in Harlem in 1924, James Baldwin was raised and educated there at a time when the glories of the Harlem Renaissance were giving way to the dark days of the Great Depression. In his latest effort, prolific writer and journalist Boyd (Harlem Reader) focuses on the powerful role Harlem played in Baldwin's life and work. He traces the influence of Countee Cullen, who taught Baldwin French in junior high school, and of literary models like Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. He explores Baldwin's call to the pulpit, his religious crisis, his coming to terms with his homosexuality, and his responses to the Civil Rights Movement, black nationalism, and the conflicts between Jews and blacks in Harlem. Throughout, he defends Baldwin against his detractors, particularly the self-proclaimed gadfly Harold Cruse. Boyd's interviews with Michael Thelwell (Univ. of Massachusetts) and Quincy Troup round out the volume. Given its narrow scope, this work will probably appeal most to readers already familiar with Baldwin. Those new to the author's life and work may want the broader context provided by David Leeming's James Baldwin: A Biography or William Weatherby's James Baldwin: Artist on Fire. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
One can find several excellent (if now somewhat dated) biographies of James Baldwin, one of the most significant figures in African American letters of the past 60 years--for example, eponymous works by David Leeming (CH, Oct'94, 32-0754) and W. J. Weatherby (1989) and James Campbell's Talking at the Gates (CH, Dec'91, 29-1947). Those looking for a full introduction to Baldwin's life would still begin with these fine works. Boyd does not aim for a conventional biography, and he barely touches such important topics as Baldwin's complex relationships with his stepfather and his mentors Richard Wright and Beauford Delaney. Instead, he fills in some significant gaps in the narrative of Baldwin's life, including his connections with Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Harold Cruse, and Amiri Baraka, all in the context of Baldwin's ties to Harlem. An authoritative guide to Harlem (he edited The Harlem Reader, 2003), Boyd is on solid ground. He not only describes the lifelong impact of Harlem on Baldwin's psyche but also provides two informative interviews he had with Michael Thelwell and Quincy Troupe, fellow authors and friends of Baldwin. This readable book will enlighten and delight anyone interested in American and/or African American literature. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. L. J. Parascandola Long Island University