James Baldwin was born and educated in New York. Go Tell It on the Mountain, his first novel, was published in 1953. Evoking brilliantly his experiences as a boy preacher in Harlem, it was an immediate success and was followed by Giovanni's Room, which explores the theme of homosexual love in a sensitive and compelling way. Another Country (1963) created something of a literary explosion and was followed in 1964 by two non-fiction books, Nobody Knows My Name and Notes of a Native Son, which contain several of the stories and essays that brought him fame in America. Nobody Knows My Name was selected by the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of its year. Going to Meet the Man was James Baldwin's first collection of stories. He also published several collections of essays, including The Fire Next Time (1963), Nothing Personal (1964), No Name in the Street (1971), The Devil Finds Work (1976) and Evidence of Things Not Seen (1983), and he wrote two plays, The Amen Corner (1955) and Blues for Mr Charlie (1965). His later novels include If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), Little Man, Little Man (1975) and Just Above My Head (1979). Many of his books are published in Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics.
James Baldwin won a number of literary fellowships: a Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Partisan Review Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant-in-Aid. He was made a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1986. He died in 1987.
The Times obituary declared, 'The best of his work ... stands comparison with any of its period to come out of the United States,' while Newsweek described him as 'an angry writer, yet his intelligence was so provoking and his sentences so elegant that he quickly became the black writer that white liberals liked to fear'.