Today in Literary History – December 1, 1987 – James Baldwin dies

The American novelist and essayist James Baldwin died on December 1, 1987, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, where he had been in a self-imposed exile from the bigotry he found intolerable in his own country. He was 63 years old and the cause was stomach cancer.


Baldwin, who was black and gay, moved from his native New York to Paris when he was 24 years old, hoping for a more tolerant environment. He lived in France for most of the rest of his life, writing all of the work he became famous for there.

Despite living abroad his essay collections, especially Notes of a Native Son  and his book-length essay The Fire Next Time marked him as one of the most incisive critics of racial and sexual tensions in America.

He explored these themes in his fiction as well, in novels like Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone.

Baldwin learned to speak French fluently and moved to a house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, in southern France in 1970. He entertained many friends there, both French and Americans visiting Europe.


There has been a campaign in recent years to buy Baldwin’s house and turn it into a writers retreat.

However, it was reported just this week that the efforts have failed and the house will be demolished and replaced by a luxury apartment development. Baldwin would have appreciated the irony.

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