James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. His essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the Western society of the United States during the mid twentieth-century. Some of Baldwin's essays are book-length, including The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award–nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro (2016). One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into the Academy-Award-winning film of the same name in 2018, directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.
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Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have.
You think your pains and heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive.
Romania had been under communist rule since 1945, but it was after Ceausescu came to power in 1965 that life really began to deteriorate. . . . Then, one night in the late 1980s, a group of men dressed as street sweepers draped the statue of Lenin in Bucharest with big truck tires and set them on fire. It was a bold and daring act in a country where, it was said, for every Romanian on the street there were two secret police officers. The next morning traffic was detoured while workers from nearby factories were brought in to clean the statue with razor blades. That day I realized that change was possible.