James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic whose work won him acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality, and humanity. His most famous writings include the novels Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni’s Room (1956), and Another Country (1962), the last two of which were worked on at MacDowell. He was also well known for his essays, including those collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), the book-length essay The Fire Next Time (1963), and Nobody Knows My Name (1961), another work that benefited from a MacDowell residency.
Baldwin was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954. Other awards include the Eugene F. Saxton Memorial Trust Award, The Foreign Drama Critics Award, and multiple other fellowships. In 1963 he was the recipient of the George Polk Memorial Award. The best-selling book, The Fire Next Time, first published by The New Yorker, was the first essay in history to spend more than 41 weeks among the top five nonfiction books on The New York Times’ Bestseller List.
Baldwin was in residence at MacDowell three times in 1954, 1958, and 1960, staying in Garland (f.k.a. Baetz) and Mansfield studios. According to the 2006 book A Place for the Arts, “Baldwin had come on the recommendation of his friend Sol Stein, who was also there that summer and was instrumental in convincing Baldwin to publish Notes of a Native Son.” MacDowell named its library in honor of Baldwin on November 4, 2018.
Baldwin left the United States as a young man to distance himself from the prejudice toward African-Americans and homosexuals and found acceptance in France, traveling there on a writing fellowship. The New York Times quoted him once as saying, “Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly...I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both.”