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

We had bought a kilo of cherries and we were eating them as we walked along. We were both insufferably childish and high-spirited that afternoon and the spectacle we presented, two grown men, jostling each other on the wide sidewalk, and aiming the cherry-pips, as though they were spitballs, into each other's faces must have been outrageous. And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon. And, watching his face, I realized that it meant much to me that I could make his face so bright. I saw that I might be willing to give a great deal not to lose that power. And I felt myself flow toward him, as a river rushes when the ice breaks up.

When the book comes out it may hurt you -- but in order for me to do it, it had to hurt me first. I can only tell you about yourself as much as I can face about myself.

Yet I also suspected that what I was seeing was but a part of the truth and perhaps not even the most important part; beneath these faces, these clothes, accents, rudenesses, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the disconnected.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.

She was disquietingly fluid?fluid without, however, being able to flow. I felt a hardness and a constriction in her, a grave mistrust, created already by too many men like me ever to be conquered now.

The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.

The future is... black.

The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world's definitions.

The sons of the masters were roaming the world, looking for arms to hold them. And the arms that might have held them--could not forgive.

Then the door is before him. There is darkness all around him, there is silence in him. Then the door opens and he stands alone, the whole world falling away from him. And the brief corner of the sky seems to be shrieking, though he does not hear a sound. Then the earth tilts, he is thrown forward on his face in darkness, and his journey begins.

They have never put it into words, they cannot; but each absence is a threat. They never felt this way in New York - they moved all over New York. Here each is afraid that one of the others will get into some terrible trouble before he is seen again, and before anyone can help him. It is the spirit of the people, the eyes which endlessly watch them, eyes which never meet their eyes. Something like lust, something like hatred, seems to hover in the air along the country roads, shifting like mist or steam, but always there, gripping the city streets like fog, making every corner a dangerous corner. They spend more of themselves, each day, than they can possibly afford, they are living beyond their means; they drop into bed each evening, exhausted, into an exhausting sleep. And no one can help them. The people who live here know how to do it - so it seems, anyway - but they cannot teach the secret. The secret can be learned only by watching, by emulating the models, by dangerous trial and possibly mortal error.

To accept one?s past ? one?s history ? is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.

We should certainly know by now that it is one thing to overthrow a dictator or repel an invader and quite another thing really to achieve a revolution. Time and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of yet another Pharaoh who, since he was necessary to put the broken country together, will not let them go.

When the South has trouble with its Negroes ? when the Negroes refuse to remain in their "place" ? it blames "outside agitators" and "Northern interference." When the nation has trouble with the Northern Negro, it blames the Kremlin.

Yet it is only when one is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream one has long cherished, or a privilege one has long possessed, that one is set free?that one has set oneself free, for higher dreams, for greater privileges. James Baldwin

You think... that my life is shameful because my encounters are. And they are. But you should ask yourself why they are.

She was in a terrible state, for she found that she could neither take her eyes off him nor look at him.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents?or, anyway, mothers?know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

The germ of the dilemma? is trapped in the room with me, always has been, and always will be, and it is yet more foreign to me than those foreign hills outside.

The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.

The South is very beautiful but its beauty makes one sad because the lives that people live, and have lived here, are so ugly that now they cannot even speak to one another. It does not demand much reflection to be appalled at the inevitable state of mind achieved by people who dare not speak freely about those things which most disturb them.

There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be accepted by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don't wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet.

They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly. It is just as well to remember that people are always doing this. Perhaps many of those legends, including Christianity, to which the world clings began their conquest of the world with just some such concerted surrender to distortion.

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

We spend vast amounts of our time an emotional energy in learning how not to be natural and in eluding the trap of our own nature and it therefore becomes very difficult to know exactly what is meant when we speak of the unnatural. It is not possible to have it both ways, to use nature at one time as the final arbiter of human conduct and at another to oppose her as angrily as we do.

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