Born in 1920s Harlem, James Baldwin broke literary ground with his candid exploration of racial, sexual and social issues in his 1953 debut, Go Tell It on the MountainThrough other notable novels like Giovanni’s Room and If Beale Street Could Talk, along with essay collections Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Timethe writer and activist lent an insightful voice to America’s mid-century civil rights struggles and gay liberation movement.

On the importance of reading for solace, Baldwin wrote:

“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, who had ever been alive.”

Throughout his storied career, Baldwin supported other marginalized writers and artists by providing introductions and forewords to their work. From Lorrain Hansberry’s captivating autobiography to Harold Norse’s erotic memoirs, find a selection of books that received Baldwin’s stamp of approval below.

Black Fire! Accounts of the Guerrilla War in Rhodesia by Michael Raeburn

To Be Young, Gifted and Black by Lorraine Hansberry

The Black Photographers Annual, Volume 3

Duties, Pleasures, and Conflicts: Essays in Struggle by Michael Thelwell

A Lonely Rage: The Autobiography of Bobby Seale by Bobby Seale

Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether

Freedom Ride by James Peck

“The moral of the Freedom Ride story is that, how­ever painful it may be for us to change, not to change will be fatal.” -JB

House Un-American Activities Committee: Bulwark Of Segregation by Ann Braden

A Freedomways Reader: Afro-America in the Seventies by Jacqueline Ernest (​editor) 

Memoirs of a Bastard Angel by Harold Norse

Optics: The Mystical Poet’s Guide to the Science of Inner Sight by Vincent Gilliam

Burn, Killer, Burn! by Paul Crump

“Paul Crump is one of the few people alive – repeat: alive – for whom I have what can only be called an uncompromising respect. And he is a real writer. He has understood what he has endured, and, like a great blues singer, tells us of his sorrow and at the same time, stands outside it.” -JB

The Messenger by Charles Wright

“A very beautiful job…And, no matter what the city fathers may say, this is New York, this is the way we live here now…Charles Wright is a terrific writer.” -JB
Categories: Activists Writers