Monday, August 2, 2010

Today in Gay History


James Arthur Baldwin, (August 2, 1924-1987)


James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

The circumstances of Baldwin's birth were unremarkable: He was born on August 2, 1924, at Harlem Hospital in New York City to a poor, unmarried, twenty-year-old woman named Emma Berdis Jones. But his death sixty-three years later on December 1, 1987, at his home in southern France was an event reported on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Indeed, his journey from a difficult childhood in Harlem to his eventual status as a legendary artist with a large and loyal international audience constitutes one of the most compelling American life-stories of the twentieth century.

Baldwin is a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature. As a black gay writer in a culture that privileges those who are white and straight, he offered in his work a sustained and articulate challenge to the dominant discourses of American racism and mandatory heterosexuality. As an African-American writer, he ranks among the finest. As a gay writer, he occupies a preeminent place.

Long before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 helped liberate the gay literary imagination in the United States, he boldly made his sexuality a vital part of his artistic vision. Even more important, by insisting on honest and open explorations of gay and bisexual themes in his fiction, he made a sharp break from the established African-American literary conventions. Through such a radical departure from tradition, he helped create the space for a generation of young African-American gay writers who succeeded him.

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