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James Baldwin: A Biography Hardcover – March 29, 1994

4.5 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

James Baldwin (1924-1987), whose novels and essays aimed to liberate white America from the hypocrisy that made oppression and racism possible, was obsessed with his mission to bear witness to injustice, observes Leeming, who was Baldwin's secretary and longtime friend. Beneath the fiercely eloquent, prophetic writer was a troubled, vulnerable, lonely individual longing to be cradled and protected. Both sides of the man are probed in this highly perceptive, revealing biography, which Baldwin authorized in 1979. Leeming, who is now a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut, draws on interviews with Baldwin to illuminate the writer's difficulty in accepting his homosexuality, his attempted suicide in Paris in 1956, the strong autobiographical component in his fiction, his uneasy association with the Black Panthers and his formative relationship with his unloving stepfather, a puritanical, bitterly frustrated preacher who went mad. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Conscience-afflicting prose that probed what it meant to be an American, a Negro, and a male put Baldwin (1924-87) in the first rank of 20th-century American writers. His one-time personal secretary Leeming argues in this biography, which Baldwin reportedly authorized before his death, that the writer was a prophet and witness tormented by demons of illegitimacy and racial and sexual alienation. Obsessed with the question of identity and struggling to work out a vision of his life, Baldwin ( Go Tell It on the Mountain; Giovanni's Room ) necessarily welded his writing from autobiography. The personal Baldwin that Leeming contributes will be indispensable to Baldwin scholars and a complement to other recent works of evaluation such as James Campbell's Talking at the Gates ( LJ 4/1/91), William J. Weatherby's James Baldwin: Artist on Fire ( LJ 5/1/89), and Horace A. Porter's Stealing the Fire ( LJ 2/1/89). Recommended for collections on Baldwin, blacks, and 20th-century U.S. society and literature.
- Thomas J. Davis, SUNY at Buffalo
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 442 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (March 29, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394577086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394577081
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,205,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Both telling about his writing and intimately even-handed about his life, this biography of James Baldwin is by turns heartening and harrowing. Baldwin kept faith with his vocation despite the tumultuous period in which he lived and wrote. David Leeming, who knew Baldwin throughout his career, has given us a great American life in the round.
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Format: Hardcover
I haven't read many biographies, but I have read lots of Baldwin -- both essays and novels. I came away from this book wishing that it was as compelling as its subject -- that Leeming had contributed his insights to the efforts of a writer closer to Baldwin's caliber -- and that the book had the benefit of a better editor. There is a sense that perhaps Leeming reveres Baldwin a bit too much. It's hard to communicate a true sense of intimacy with your subject when he's so high up on a pedestal! Overall, a disappointment.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The early half of the 20th century probably produced some of the best artists we've ever seen. But what seems to be the case among the many artists of that time, is the struggle to find balance between creativity, love, family, social conditions and current events and life itself. A man gifted in many ways, but in constant turmoil struggling to find peace and happiness in a life filled with anything but the two. Like most of his time, his life was a roller coaster ride and will take you from the streets of Harlem to his travels around the world. If you want to know about the life of the one of the best writers of the 20th century, this is the place to start.
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Format: Paperback
Leeming offers a detailed, psychological portrait of James Baldwin. He explores Baldwin's troubled relationship with his stepfather, his youthful stint as a Christian preacher, his homosexuality, and his complex relationships with fellow black artists from Langston Hughes to Richard Wright. Leeming employs numerous anecdotes, always staying close to Baldwin's state of mind, and excerpts from Baldwin's correspondence to depict Baldwin's personality from his guilt at leaving his mother and siblings to go to Paris to pursue his artistic career to his abiding sense of prophetic calling. Some of the book's most interesting moments include Baldwin's encounters with Martin Luther King, Jr. and his close bond with Beauford Delaney, who became a father figure for Baldwin. Leeming also comments on all of Baldwin's major works, treating them as strongly autobiographical.
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Format: Hardcover
in 1962, david leeming met james baldwin in the kitchen of a mutual friend's house in istanbul. baldwin had literarily just penned the concluding words to the manuscript that would become his novel ANOTHER COUNTRY. a friendship developed between the two men, and for ten years leeming acted as secretary and companion to baldwin, which put leeming in a favorable position to write a biography of james baldwin. also both men shared an affection for the works of the novelist, henry james, and movies. as close friend, personal secretary and confidant, leeming spent much time with baldwin and his papers, and those experiences provided him with first hand insight into the life of james baldwin. the long conversations between the two men exposed the ideas behind his novels to leeming.

leeming's book on baldwin depicts the writer and activist as a prescient writer and thinker whose words speak to many of the racial issues of the 21st century, of our recent times. there is the biographical information from baldwin's birth to a single mother in harlem, her marriage to the fundamental holiness preacher who became step father to the boy he called ugly and resented for an intelligence that expanded jimmy's culture beyond the church and exposure to other cultures which the boy would come to embrace. the situation of his family life became metaphor for his place in the united states, where his blackness and later, his homosexuality, would be seen as ugly, and his search for and formation of his identity seen as acts of further rebellion in a country where he was supposed to be content with government sanctioned racism and unquestioned beliefs of racial superiority. baldwin said that had he not left the united states he would have become insane or possibly committed murder.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an okay bio. Disorganized in the telling though Leeming, who was close to Baldwin, has great affection for this great writer. So a mix of bio and appreciation. Minor but worth reading.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An excellent book, full of real experience and honesty. If you were a fan of Mr. Baldwin this is a MUST read.
How sweet it is to know he had a real friend like this. Bravo!!!!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I knew very little of James Baldwin's life. I rated it a four star because it was very good
but I did not know what to expect; therefore did not know if it was a five star or not.
God bless you, James Baldwin whereever you are. I wish you could have had a happier life.
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