James Baldwin

James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison mirror the African-American experience of the 1950s. Their characters suffer from a lack of identity, rather than from over-ambition. Baldwin, the oldest of nine children born to a Harlem, New York, family, was the foster son of a minister. As a youth, Baldwin occasionally preached in the church. This experience helped shape the compelling, oral quality of Baldwin's prose, most clearly seen in his excellent essays, such as "Letter from a Region Of My Mind," from the collection The Fire Next Time (1963). In this, he argued movingly for an end to separation between the races.

Baldwin's first novel, the autobiographical Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953), is probably his best known. It is the story of a 14-year-old youth who seeks self-knowledge and religious faith as he wrestles with issues of Christian conversion in a storefront church. Other important Baldwin works include Another Country (1962), a novel about racial issues and homosexuality, and Nobody Knows My Name (1961), a collection of passionate personal essays about racism, the role of the artist, and literature.