~by Michaela Hayes

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, photo credit: Bob Adelman, all rights reserved

Summer is an exciting time for me. I always craft an extensive list of books that I want to read and then get through about half of them. In early August, with a good chunk of books left to go and only two weeks before the fall semester began, I had to make a choice. Which book was I going to devote my last precious days to? After thorough research (i.e. looking at Goodreads reviews), I made my choice — Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.

Giovanni’s Room captured me in the first sentence — “I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.” Baldwin’s ability to craft situations so psychologically real arrested me. His prose is sharp without forfeiting beauty and his characters are so poised and strong I feel as though I know them. 

Giovanni’s Room is lauded as a gay literature classic, despite the early date of its publication (1956). However, this is not the only classic penned by Baldwin. Baldwin began churning out literature by his mid-late 20s, when he moved to Paris in attempt to escape the suffocating effects of racism in the United States. He released his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, shortly after moving in 1953. He then moved from Paris to New York to Istanbul, continuing to release novels and books of essays along the way.

Baldwin did not live abroad forever, though. He returned to America in order to take part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Baldwin had already reached critical and mainstream acclaim for his works, so he remained a key representative throughout the movement.

His work is varied but often focuses on common themes— racism, social alienation, class tension, and sexuality in mid-century America. Throughout his life, he released five novels and countless other literary works, solidifying himself as one of the most influential advocates for equality of the 20th century.

From one reader to another, my advice to you is simple: read some James Baldwin this week.