Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin by James Campbell
James Baldwin was born into the squalor of a Harlem tenement and transcended an early life of setbacks and racism. A storefront preacher at the age of fourteen, he supported his entire family - mother and eight siblings - before he began writing for prestigious journals such as The Partisan Review. Troubled by his fame, his sexuality and his colour, he was a great drinker and socialiser with wild periods of gregariousness and monastic retreats during which he wrote feverishly. By the time he died in 1987, his books such as The Fire Next Time, Go Tell It on the Mountain and Nobody Knows My Name had become modern classics.
Baldwin was one of the most incisive and influential American writers of the twentieth century. Active in the civil rights movement and open about his homosexuality, Baldwin was celebrated for eloquent analyses of social unrest in his essays and for daring portrayals of sexuality and interracial relationships in his fiction. By the time of his death in 1987, both his fiction and nonfiction works had achieved the status of modern classics.
James Campbell knew James Baldwin for the last ten years of Baldwin's life. For Talking at the Gates, Campbell interviewed many of Baldwin's friends and professional associates and examined several hundred pages of correspondence. Campbell was the first biographer to obtain access to the large file that the FBI and other agencies had compiled on the writer. Examining Baldwin's turbulent relationships with Norman Mailer, Richard Wright, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, this candid and original account portrays the life and work of a writer who held to the principle that "the unexamined life is not worth living."
This new edition features a fresh introduction addressing recent developments in Baldwin’s reputation and his return to a position he occupied in the early 1960s, when Life magazine called him "the monarch of the current literary jungle." It also contains a previously unpublished interview with Norman Mailer about Baldwin, which Campbell conducted in 1987. Reissued with a new introduction. First published 1991.
'Campbell has blended both scholarship and personal recollection.' - New York Times
'First-rate ... the best biography so far.' - Chicago Tribune
'A lively book that is immensely readable.' - Boston Globe
'Scrupulously researched and uncovers new material about Baldwin's life. Campbell knew Baldwin well, but his affection for the man has not dulled his critical pen.' - Caryl Phillips
'Frank and affectionate.' - Times Literary Supplement
Imprint: Polygon Books
Publication Date: 16 February 2021