Quote of The Day : James Baldwin on Free Love

James Baldwin was a true supporter of the human spirit and understanding. He lived in different countries and experienced diverse cultures. Love was love. fifty-five years ago, he was talking about this concept. Homosexuality was a taboo subject. Love and sexual preferences were understood differently. It was a massive effort to exist with his choices.

“Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it as a disease says more about them that it does about homosexuality.”

James Baldwin, Conversations with James Baldwin (1996)

Origins Of the Quote

These poignant words are by James Baldwin, from the book “Conversations with James Baldwin” (Literary Conversations Series). Published on May 1st, 1989, and edited by Fred R. Standley and Darnell D. Pratt. These are classic Baldwinian words – truthful, strong, and yet spoken with gentleness. And unapologetic. He displays his ability to intellectually decode and speak about the emotional, without sounding jaded.

The interview was conducted between the publication of ‘Nobody Knows My Names’, to a few weeks before his death. Infact, the collection also includes the last formal conversation with him. This collection has been put together from sources like newspapers, journals, and reviews. The twenty-seven interviews show this celebrated author in all his different moods of anger, of perception of racial, social, and literary situations in America. Always eloquent.

Baldwin was accesssible and cooperative for interviews, in the United States and abroad. He frequently referred to himself as “a kind of transatlantic commuter.” After he moved to Paris to write, He candidly discussed his own ghetto origins, his role in the civil rights movement, or his views on world affairs, black-and-white relations. He spoke on Vietnam, Christianity, and fellow writers, his literary mission and achievements. Baldwin was popular and controversial, his diversity renders him relevant.

The collection significantly supports Baldwin’s ideas in fiction, drama, essays, and poetry. It provides body to a stunning orator and major literary figure who considered himself a sojourner even in his own country. Early in his career, Baldwin told Studs Terkel: “I am an American writer. This country is my subject.”

The Person Behind The Words

Arthur Baldwin, born August 2, 1924, in Harlem in New York. He never met his biological father and did not even know his name, as his mother preferred to keep it that way. Young and single, she struggled to make ends meet. She remarried when James was three to a Baptist minister named David Baldwin. James never shared a favourable relationship with his father, he followed in his footsteps. Baldwin served as a youth minister in a Harlem Pentecostal church from the ages of 14 to 16. A voracious reader from an early age, James demonstrated a gift for writing in his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. He was lucky to have worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon. 

Baldwin developed an affinity for understanding sophisticated literary devices. He published numerous poems, short stories and plays in the magazine, and his early work showed a definitive spark from a writer of such a young age. It was fight to survive, to eat, to life, to even read and write. Even being understood was a journey and a battle.

Family First

He wanted to attend college after graduating in 1942. With seven younger siblings to tend to, he put his plans for college on hold. It was his choice to help support his family. His step-father passed away after the eighth child was born – leaving James to shoulder all their responsibility. He took whatever work he could find to feed his brothers and sisters. He even worked as a labourer laying railroad tracks for the U.S. Army in New Jersey. It was crucial to keep the fires burning.

This was the crystallisation phase for this remarkable essayist, playwright, novelist, and voice of the American civil rights movement. The experiences, discrimination, and hardships fueled his thoughts and writing. What he wrote rose from the toil, sweat, and the labours of his soul. From his experiences that was his truth.

It would only be after moving to Paris, that he would be free to live and write the way that he wanted to. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background. Love was always important to him. The human being was at the core of his thought and expression. His life had taught him uncommon compassion.

Some Final Thoughts

In 1954, Baldwin was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship. The next year he published his next novel, Giovanni’s Room. It was the story of an American living in Paris. The concept broke new ground for its complex depiction of homosexuality, which was a taboo subject. That was the beginning of Baldwin breaking the surface and making his mark.

Baldwin investigated the zones of race and colour. He wrote about the connotations of being coloured and American. These works – Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961), The Fire Next Time( 1963) are iconic for their depth of portrayals. Baldwin painted a brutally realistic picture of race relations but remained optimistic about possible improvements.

Interested and invested in the Civil rights Movement, politics wasn’t his priority. He considered himself an author and viewed his personal mission as bearing “witness to the truth.” He accomplished this mission through his extensive, brilliant literary legacy.


Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.