James Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin

James
Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin
1924
1987

American Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet, Activist and Social Critic

Author Quotes

To be a Negro in this country is really? never to be looked at. What white people see when they look at you is not visible. What they do see when they do look at you is what they have invested you with. What they have invested you with is all the agony, and pain, and the danger, and the passion, and the torment ? you know, sin, death, and hell ? of which everyone in this country is terrified.

We stared at each other across a narrow space that was full of danger, that almost seemed to roar, like flame.

When you're writing you're trying to find out something which you don't know.

You do not,? cried Giovanni, sitting up, ?love anyone! You never have loved anyone, I am sure you never will! You love your purity, you love your mirror?you are just like a little virgin, you walk around with your hands in front of you as though you had some precious metal, gold, silver, rubies, maybe diamonds down there between your legs! You will never give it to anybody, you will never let anybody touch it?man or woman. You want to be clean. You think you came here covered with soap and you think you will go out covered with soap?and you do not want to stink, not even for five minutes, in the meantime.? He grasped me by the collar, wrestling and caressing at once, fluid and iron at once: saliva spraying from his lips and his eyes full of tears, but with the bones of his face showing and the muscles leaping in his arms and neck. ?You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying little moralities. And you?you are immoral. You are, by far, the most immoral man I have met in all my life. Look, look what you have done to me. Do you think you could have done this if I did not love you? Is this what you should do to love?

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying ?You exaggerate?. They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one's word for anything, including mine- but trust your experience. Know whence you came.

She, who had descended with such joy and pain, had begun her upward climb?upward, with her baby, on the steep, steep side of the mountain.

The artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains.

The greatest significance of the present student generation is that it is through them that the point of view of the subjugated is finally and inexorably being expressed.

The prison is overcrowded, the calendars full, the judges busy, the lawyers ambitious, and the cops zealous. What does it matter if someone gets trapped here for a year or two, gets ruined here, goes mad here, commits murder or suicide here? It's too bad, but that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. I do not claim that everyone in prison here is innocent, but I do claim that the law, as it operates, is guilty, and that the prisoners, therefore, are all unjustly imprisoned. Is it conceivable, after all, that any middle-class white boy -- or, indeed, almost any white boy -- would have been arrested on so grave a charge as murder, with such flimsy substantiation, and forced to spend, as of this writing, three years in prison? What force, precisely, is operating when a prisoner is advised, requested, ordered, intimidated, or forced, to confess to a crime he has not committed, and promised a lighter sentence for so perjuring and debasing himself? Does the law exist for the purpose of furthering the ambitions of those who have sworn to uphold the law, or is it seriously to be considered as a moral, unifying force, the health and strength of a nation?

The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.

There are few things under heaven more unnerving than the silent, accumulating contempt and hatred of a people.

This is the charged, the dangerous moment, when everything must be re-examined, must be made new, when nothing at all can be taken for granted.

To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.

We take our shape, it is true, within and against that cage of reality bequeathed us at our birth; and yet is precisely through our dependence on this reality that we are most endlessly betrayed.

Whether in private debate or in public, any attempt I made to explain how the Black Muslim movement came about, and how it has achieved such force, was met with a blankness that revealed the little connection that the liberals' attitudes have with their perceptions or their lives, or even their knowledge?revealed, in fact, that they could deal with the Negro as a symbol or a victim but had no sense of him as a man.

You don?t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.

You're getting to be a big boy,' I said desperately, 'it's time you started thinking about your future.' 'I'm thinking about my future,' said Sonny, grimly. 'I think about it all the time.

Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover's war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.

The Atlantic Ocean is deep and wide and money doesn't hurry from the other side.

The impossible is the least that one can demand.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.

The summer ended. Day by day, and taking its time, the summer ended. The noises in the street began to change, diminish, voices became fewer, the music sparse. Daily, blocks and blocks of children were spirited away. Grownups retreated from the streets, into the houses. Adolescents moved from the sidewalk to the stoop to the hallway to the stairs, and rooftops were abandoned. Such trees as there were allowed their leaves to fall - they fell unnoticed - seeming to promise, not without bitterness, to endure another year. At night, from a distance, the parks and playgrounds seemed inhabited by fireflies, and the night came sooner, inched in closer, fell with a greater weight. The sound of the alarm clock conquered the sound of the tambourine, the houses put on their winter faces. The houses stared down a bitter landscape, seeming, not without bitterness, to have resolved to endure another year.

There are people in the world for whom coming along is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive.

This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

To hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first... acceptance totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are... the second... that one must never, in one's life, accept... injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength.

Author Picture
First Name
James
Last Name
Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin
Birth Date
1924
Death Date
1987
Bio

American Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet, Activist and Social Critic