James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, playwright, and activist. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America. 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. One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into an Academy Award nominated dramatic film in 2018.
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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.
Isn’t it funny how the memories you cherish before a breakup can become your worst enemies afterwards? The thoughts you loved to think about, the memories you wanted to hold up to the light and view from every angle—it suddenly seems a lot safer to lock them in a box, far from the light of day and throw away the key. It’s not an act of bitterness. It’s an act of self-preservation.