Influential African American writer James Arthur Baldwin (1924-1987) was born on this day in Harlem, New York City, the stepson of a minister. At age 14, he became a Pentecostal preacher.
"People pay for what they do, and, still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead," he once said.
Inspired by mentor Richard Wright, Baldwin moved to Paris in 1948 to write and stayed there 10 years. "The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted lands," Baldwin explained.
"The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him."
Balwin is best known for the spiritual and moral awakening novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), about a troubled black family during the Depression. With a story based on his impoverished childhood, he created his realistic characters with the groundbreaking use of black idioms.
"Mountain," Baldwin said, "is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else."
Upon his return to the United States in 1960, the impassioned writer became a Civil Rights activist and highly-acclaimed essayist. His words, with almost evangelic fire, celebrated passion and honesty.
"Experience," he said, " is a private, and a very largely speechless affair."
Do it with all the enthusiasm in your heart.