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Course Hero, "Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide," January 12, 2017, accessed July 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/.

James Baldwin | Biography

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James Baldwin was born August 2, 1924, in New York City, the oldest of nine children and the grandson of former slaves. Baldwin's mother, Emma Jones, allegedly never told him the name of his biological father and married Baldwin's stepfather, David Baldwin, when James was three years old. His family lived in poverty in Harlem, and Baldwin had a difficult relationship with his strict stepfather, a preacher in a storefront church. At age 14 Baldwin became a preacher in the church himself, ministering there for the following three years. He was a good student and spent time reading and honing the craft of writing during his high school years.

After he graduated from high school, Baldwin worked as a freelance writer in Greenwich Village for several years. He developed a friendship with fellow novelist Richard Wright, and in 1948 Wright helped Baldwin earn the grant that allowed him to move to Paris and work on his semiautobiographical first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, which he finished writing in Switzerland. Baldwin and Wright would eventually part ways due to Baldwin's public rejection of Wright's seminal novel Native Son and their differing philosophies on the treatment of race in fiction.

Go Tell It on the Mountain received positive reviews at the time of publication in 1953 and has become a classic of American literature. The novel made Baldwin a renowned author and social commentator and remains among the most popular of his works. Critics of the novel objected to its treatment of racial problems, claiming the novel does not take a sufficiently strong stand on the topic of race. Compared with the more overt treatments of race presented by Baldwin's contemporaries, such as Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, Baldwin's treatment of race is somewhat subtle, but Baldwin said his goal with the novel was to expand the boundaries of black writing and present a more rounded point of view.

Baldwin traveled extensively in Europe and referred to himself as a "transatlantic commuter," living in France, the United States, and Turkey at different times during the 1950s. In the 1960s he returned to the United States to become active in the civil rights movement and was an outspoken proponent of racial equality throughout his life, using his writing to address prejudice and inequality.

Baldwin had romantic relationships with both men and women, and his fluid interpretation of sexuality can be detected in Go Tell It on the Mountain, though not as clearly as in his second novel, Giovanni's Room (1956), which features a protagonist caught in a love triangle with a man and a woman. He continued to publish novels, plays, and essays until his death from stomach cancer on December 1, 1987, at his home in France.

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