cover image Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin

Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin

Herb Boyd, . . Atria, $24 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-9307-5

Although James Baldwin (1924–1987) left his native Harlem as a young man and returned only for occasional visits, the New York neighborhood was a recurring theme in his essays and novels, and critics often claimed that the noted African-American writer exploited its squalor. His junior high French teacher was luminary Countee Cullen, who may have inspired Baldwin's later Paris sojourn and his first literary efforts, and Baldwin shared a stormy relationship with another Harlem Renaissance progenitor, poet Langston Hughes, who called Another Country juvenile. Baldwin shared a distrust of white liberals with Malcolm X and lent his powerful voice to Harlem's '60s causes, including a rent-strike rally and defense of the Harlem Six put on trial for the brutal murder of a Jewish shopkeeper. Longtime Harlem resident Boyd, managing editor of Black World Today , is authoritative, but in his self-proclaimed role as Baldwin's defender, he gives short shrift to the writer's homosexuality and comes across as rationalizing the anti-Semitism Baldwin was repeatedly accused of in his lifetime. The literary critiques of Baldwin's writings and other details render this volume primarily of interest to scholars of African-American studies (Jan.)