cover image James Baldwin: A Biography

James Baldwin: A Biography

David Adams Leeming. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (442pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57708-1

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. (Apr.)