JAMES ARTHUR BALDWIN was bom on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York City, to Emma Berdis Jones and an unknown father. When James was three years old his mother married David Baldwin, the son of a slave, who was a factory worker and lay preacher; the couple would subsequently have eight children. Baldwin joined the Church of Mount Calvary of the Pentecostal Faith in 1938 and became a preacher, although in later years he expressed scorn and regret over his youthful religious activities. He attended De Witt Clinton High School, a largely white school in the Bronx, from 1938 to 1942. After working at a series of menial jobs in New Jersey, he moved to Greenwich Village in 1944 in order to support his family after the death of his stepfather the previous year. He met Richard Wright, whose writing exerted considerable influence on him. Failing in the attempt to write a novel, he began writing reviews in the Nation and the New Leader and gained notoriety by a controversial essay, "The Harlem Ghetto: Winter 1948," in Commentary for February 1948.
Later that year Baldwin won a Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship; in November he used much of the grant money to emigrate to Paris, where he remained for the next nine years, although returning frequently to New York.He associated with many of the American expatriates in Paris— Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Herbert Gold—along with Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, and other French writers. One friend, the painter Lucien Happers‐ berger, invited Baldwin to spend time at his home in Switzerland in 1951, where Baldwin completed his most highly regarded novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain ( 1953). This novel, drawing upon his childhood experiences, deals with the religious and social maturation of a boy in a repressive and racist society.
A Guggenheim Fellowship awarded in 1954 allowed Baldwin the leisure to work on his next book, Giovanni's Room ( 1956). This is one of the first modern novels to deal frankly with homosexuality. Another Country ( 1962), a novel on which Baldwin worked for six years, is a wide-ranging treatment