Nobody Knows My Name – James Baldwin (1961)

“Twelve years ago a young Negro writer named James Baldwin printed an impassioned essay. ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel,’ in which he attacked the kind of fiction from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ to ‘Native Son,’ that had been written in America about the sufferings of Negroes. The ‘protest novel,’ said Baldwin, began with sympathy for the Negro but soon had a way of enclosing him in the tones of hatred and violence he had experienced all his life; and so choked up was it with indignation, it failed to treat the Negro as a particular human being. ‘The failure of the protest novel * * * lies in its insistence that it is [man’s] categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.’  To transcend the sterile categories of ‘Negro-ness,’ whether those enforced by the white world or those erected defensively by Negroes, became Baldwin’s central concern as a writer. He wanted, as he says in ‘Nobody Knows My Name,’ his brilliant new collection of essays, ‘to prevent myself from becoming merely a Negro; or, even merely a Negro writer.’ He knew how ‘the world tends to trap and immobilize you in the role you play,’ and he knew also that for the Negro writer, if he is to be a writer at all, it hardly matters whether this trap is compounded of hatred or uneasy kindness. Avoiding the psychic imprisonment of a fixed role, however, is more easily said than done. It was one thing for Baldwin to rebel against the social rebelliousness of Richard Wright, the older Negro novelist, who had served him as a literary hero, and quite another to establish his personal identity when there was no escaping that darkness of skin which in our society forms a brand of humiliation. Freedom cannot always be willed into existence; and that is why, as Baldwin went on to write two accomplished novels and a book of still more accomplished essays, he was forced to improvise a protest of his own: nonpolitical in character, spoken more in the voice of anguish than revolt, and concerned less with the melodrama of discrimination than the moral consequences of living under an irremovable stigma. This highly personal protest Baldwin has released through a masterly use of the informal essay. Writing with both strength and delicacy, he has made the essay into a form that brings together vivid reporting, personal recollection and speculative thought. …”
NY Times – By IRVING HOWE (1961)
W – Nobody Knows My Name
New Yorker: The Enemy Within
[PDF] Nobody knows my name
YouTube: Notes of a native son: the world according to James Baldwin – Christina Greer

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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