Notes of a Native Son (1955)
A collection of ten essays published in 1955, Notes of a Native Son announced to the literary world the power of Baldwin as an essayist (and as one of the innovators of literary journalism). Readers of his nonfiction should begin here, because, in so many ways, the book announces the themes that will preoccupy Baldwin for the rest of his life: love, identity, history, and rage all animate these pages. The title essay, ‘Notes of a Native Son’, is a brilliant autobiographical piece that juxtaposes the death of his stepfather with the Harlem Riot of 1943.
‘Many Thousands Gone’ provocatively criticizes Richard Wright’s Native Son, and ‘Stranger in the Village’ poignantly explores, among other things, the problem of Black identity. One of Baldwin’s most insightful formulations, which remains relevant today, sits among the pages of this book: “Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.”