JAMES BALDWIN by Randall Kenan


Age Range: 14 & up
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 A vivid, intelligent portrait of the outstanding author and African American, first of Chelsea's Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians. The series' 29 announced subjects range from Sappho to Bayard Rustin, from Jane Addams to Liberace; its general editor, scholar Martin B. Duberman, describes it as providing young gays and lesbians with role models and ``a continuum of experience and achievement into which they can place themselves and lay claim to happy and productive lives.'' Kenan, an award-winning novelist (Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, 1993), presents Baldwin as a subtle, extraordinarily gifted man who realized early that bitterness toward his abusive stepfather--or toward whites--was deeply damaging to himself; reconciliation was his most persistent theme, though the love he experienced, and portrayed, was almost always conflicted. Kenan discusses Baldwin's groundbreaking early fiction and essays and his role in the civil rights struggle in some detail and is forthright but unspecific on his many, mostly anonymous, liaisons and about the alcohol and celebrity lifestyle that apparently diminished his creativity later on. Like his generously quoted subject, Kenan can be eloquent, though his complex sentences occasionally pose a challenge. The big lack here is sourcing, especially for the many quotes from those who knew Baldwin--inexcusable in an otherwise carefully wrought book. Still, a carefully nuanced overview of a fascinating figure. B&w photos; list of Baldwin's books; ``Further Reading'' (adult); chronology; index. (Biography. YA)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-7910-2301-X
Page count: 144pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994