15 Great Books by James Baldwin

Books by James Baldwin: James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. His essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son, explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the Western society of the United States during the mid twentieth-century.  We hope that you enjoy our list of the best James Baldwin Books. 

Books by James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room

by James Baldwin

James Baldwin’s groundbreaking novel about love and the fear of love is set among the bohemian bars and nightclubs of 1950s Paris.

In the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

by James Baldwin

In one of the greatest American classics, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.

With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin tells the story of the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Originally published in 1953, Baldwin said of his first novel, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” 

If Beale Street Could Talk

by James Baldwin

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

The Fire Next Time

by James Baldwin

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation, gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement—and still lights the way to understanding race in America today.  

“Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read. . . . Baldwin refused to hold anyone’s hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates

Another Country

by James Baldwin

Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, among other locales, Another Country is a novel of passions—sexual, racial, political, artistic—that is stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality, depicting men and women, blacks and whites, stripped of their masks of gender and race by love and hatred at the most elemental and sublime.

Notes of a Native Son

by James Baldwin

In an age of Black Lives Matter, James Baldwin’s essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written. With films like I Am Not Your Negro and the forthcoming If Beale Street Could Talk bringing renewed interest to Baldwin’s life and work, Notes of a Native Son serves as a valuable introduction.

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in “The Harlem Ghetto” to a sobering “Journey to Atlanta.”

Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

It may be the heroin that a down-and-out jazz pianist uses to face the terror of pouring his life into an inanimate instrument. It may be the brittle piety of a father who can never forgive his son for his illegitimacy. Or it may be the screen of bigotry that a redneck deputy has raised to blunt the awful childhood memory of the day his parents took him to watch a black man being murdered by a gleeful mob.

By turns haunting, heartbreaking, and horrifying–and informed throughout by Baldwin’s uncanny knowledge of the wounds racism has left in both its victims and its perpetrators–Going to Meet the Man is a major work by one of our most important writers.

Nobody Knows My Name

by James Baldwin

Told with Baldwin’s characteristically unflinching honesty, this collection of illuminating, deeply felt essays — “passionate, probing, controversial” (The Atlantic) — examines topics ranging from race relations in the United States to the role of the writer in society, and offers personal accounts of Richard Wright, Norman Mailer and other writers.

I Am Not Your Negro

by James Baldwin, Raoul Peck

In his final years, Baldwin envisioned a book about his three assassinated friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. His deeply personal notes for the project had never been published before acclaimed filmmaker Raoul Peck mined Baldwin’s oeuvre to compose his stunning documentary film I Am Not Your Negro.

Peck weaves these texts together, brilliantly imagining the book that Baldwin never wrote with selected published and unpublished passages, essays, letters, notes, and interviews that are every bit as incisive and pertinent now as they have ever been. Peck’s film uses them to jump through time, juxtaposing Baldwin’s private words with his public statements, in a blazing examination of the tragic history of race in America.
 
This edition contains more than 40 black-and-white images from the film

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

by James Baldwin

At the height of his theatrical career, the actor Leo Proudhammer is nearly felled by a heart attack. As he hovers between life and death, Baldwin shows the choices that have made him enviably famous and terrifyingly vulnerable.

For between Leo’s childhood on the streets of Harlem and his arrival into the intoxicating world of the theater lies a wilderness of desire and loss, shame and rage. An adored older brother vanishes into prison. There are love affairs with a white woman and a younger black man, each of whom will make irresistible claims on Leo’s loyalty. 

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is overpowering in its vitality and extravagant in the intensity of its feeling.

Just Above My Head

by James Baldwin

“Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.”
 
The stark grief of a brother mourning a brother opens this stunning, unforgettable novel. Here, in a monumental saga of love and rage, James Baldwin goes back to Harlem, to the church of his groundbreaking novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, to the forbidden passion of Giovanni’s Room, and to the political fire that enflames his nonfiction work. Here, too, the story of gospel singer Arthur Hall and his family becomes both a journey into another country of the soul and senses—and a living contemporary history of black struggle in this land.

No Name in the Street

by James Baldwin


In this stunningly personal document, James Baldwin remembers in vivid details the Harlem childhood that shaped his early conciousness and the later events that scored his heart with pain—the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his sojourns in Europe and in Hollywood, and his retum to the American South to confront a violent America face-to-face.

The Devil Finds Work

by James Baldwin

Baldwin’s personal reflections on movies gathered here in a book-length essay are also an appraisal of American racial politics. Offering an incisive look at racism in American movies and a vision of America’s self-delusions and deceptions, Baldwin challenges the underlying assumptions in such films as In the Heat of the NightGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and The Exorcist.

Here are our loves and hates, biases and cruelties, fears and ignorance reflected by the films that have entertained us and shaped our consciousness. And here too is the stunning prose of a writer whose passion never diminished his struggle for equality, justice, and social change.

Blues for Mister Charlie

by James Baldwin

In a small Southern town, a white man murders a black man, then throws his body in the weeds. With this act of violence–which is loosely based on the notorious 1955 killing of Emmett Till–James Baldwin launches an unsparing and at times agonizing probe of the wounds of race.

For where once a white storekeeper could have shot a “boy” like Richard Henry with impunity, times have changed. And centuries of brutality and fear, patronage and contempt, are about to erupt in a moment of truth as devastating as a shotgun blast.

In his award-winning play, Baldwin turns a murder and its aftermath into an inquest in which even the most well-intentioned whites are implicated–and in which even a killer receives his share of compassion.

James Baldwin: The Last Interview: and other Conversations

by James Baldwin

“I was not born to be what someone said I was. I was not born to be defined by someone else, but by myself, and myself only.” When, in the fall of 1987, the poet Quincy Troupe traveled to the south of France to interview James Baldwin, Baldwin’s brother David told him to ask Baldwin about everything—Baldwin was critically ill and David knew that this might be the writer’s last chance to speak at length about his life and work.

The result is one of the most eloquent and revelatory interviews of Baldwin’s career, a conversation that ranges widely over such topics as his childhood in Harlem, his close friendship with Miles Davis, his relationship with writers like Toni Morrison and Richard Wright, his years in France, and his ever-incisive thoughts on the history of race relations and the African-American experience.