Iconic LGBTQ+ Figures: James Baldwin

Learn about iconic LGBTQ+ figures that helped shaped U.S. history, politics, and culture.

James Baldwin was a prolific writer, civil rights activist, and social critic. Born in Harlem, New York in 1924, Baldwin was the oldest of nine children and witnessed the struggle of poverty, racism, and discrimination all around him. By the time he was 14, libraries were a refuge for Baldwin and his love for reading helped grow his passion for writing. Throughout the early parts of his life, he was a preacher, a New Jersey railroad worker, and a freelance writer.

He then moved to Paris in 1948 when it became clear the US would continue to be an unsafe place for him. Paris gave Baldwin the distance he needed to write about his experiences in a segregated country as a Black queer man. With renewed creative energy, he published his most well-known books such as Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and Notes of a Native Son, while also traveling internationally to speak about race relations in the US.

His works increased public awareness of racial and sexual oppression. There was an honesty and depth in Baldwin’s writing readers had yet to encounter and this honesty informed his activism and lectures across the country. He would go on to publish 17 works and over 30 essays.

Check out these works by James Baldwin at San Diego County Library.