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Through the eyes and mind of one of America's most effective essayists, the conditions of being an African American living in a society that is grappling with the consequences of racial discrimination are witnessed firsthand.The subjects of his essays vary as Baldwin ponders his own reactions to the significance of the so-called protest novel to the circumstances that led many African-American writers of his time to become expatriates.
'The story of the negro in America is the story of America ...
it is not a very pretty story'James Baldwin's breakthrough essay collection made him the voice of his generation.
According to Baldwin's biographer, David Leeming, the idea for Baldwin's collection came from an old school friend, Sol Stein, who had become an editor at Beacon Press.
Baldwin's first response to the suggestion of publishing his essays, which were largely autobiographical, was that he was "too young" to publish his "memoirs." Baldwin had, after all, only published one other book prior to Notes, and on top of this he was only thirty years old, which meant that he was in his twenties when he wrote the essays.
His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews, and his essay collection The Fire Next Time was a bestseller that made him an influential figure in the civil rights movement.
Baldwin spent many years in France, where he moved to escape the racism and homophobia of the United States.
However, many critics believe that Baldwin's most powerful voice was expressed in his essays.
Baldwin continued to write throughout his sixty-three years, although his influence waned toward the end of his life.
Baldwin concludes his "Autobiographical Notes" with a summation of what he considered his responsibilities as a writer.
"I consider that I have many responsibilities," he wrote, "but none greater than this: to last …