by Jason Diamond)
Flavorwire is excited to introduce our new Author Club series. It’s like a book club, but instead of focusing on a single work, we spend the month profiling several books by a single author and invite our readers to join in with comments that we will round up at the end of the month. We’ve chosen James Baldwin as the inaugural writer, and will spend each remaining week of February discussing one of his books. We’ll kick things off in a few days with his best-known work, 1953′s Go Tell It on the Mountain, then look at his second novel, Giovanni’s Room, finally finishing the month with some of his most famous essays. The Author Club aims to both start conversations about authors among those who are already familiar with them and serve as an introduction for readers who are new to their work.
It is true that our selection of Baldwin coincides with Black History Month, and that few authors chronicled the 20th-century African-American experience quite as well as he did. But making him our first Author’s Club choice has less to do with timing or his background than with the fact that few great American writers deserve as much renewed attention as Baldwin. His legacy, his experience, and — most importantly — his work are all still incredibly relevant to this day, maybe more so than some of his contemporaries.
What we get today out of reading him is so much more than just eloquent and riveting writing; James Baldwin is also a history teacher. His fiction and nonfiction recount the stories and struggles of African Americans in the first half of the 20th century, and Giovanni’s Room stands as a landmark novel in its representation of homosexuality in a way that seems neither exploitative nor like a simple plot device. The novel is a testament that as a gay black man in the 1950s — one who felt the only way he could be happy, comfortable, and safe as a person and an artist was by moving to France — Baldwin possessed a certain type of courage that is rare among writers today.
So if you’ve read Baldwin, please feel free to chime in over the next few weeks as we present our thoughts on his greatest works. If you haven’t read Baldwin, and you’d like to do so to participate, why not pick up a copy of Go Tell It on the Mountain and start reading?