Essayist, novelist, poet, teacher, and all-around artist James Baldwin was among the 20th century’s most memorable commentators on American race relations. Although he was originally motivated by his preacher step-father to go into the ministry, he abandoned the improvisation of speechcraft for the deliberation of writing, and studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City. After years of traumatic treatment due to his skin color and homosexuality, Baldwin accepted a fellowship to continue his writing in France, making part of a trend of expatriates who fled American racism for the safer haven of Paris; there, he completed his first and most famous (semi-autobiographical) story, Go Tell It on the Mountain. He later returned to the US to cover the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, but remained drawn to – and ultimately died in – his adopted country of France.
Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, was unusual at the time of its publication for its gay-centered plot and complex portrayal of queer characters; however, he was vocal about rejecting labels on his sexuality, dismissing them as “20th century terms which, for me, have very little meaning.” For this reason he is listed as both gay and unlabeled.