James Baldwin by Carl Van Vechten

On September 13, 1955, Carl Van Vechten photographed the fairly well unknown James Baldwin who had just published his first collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was already published, and his next, Giovanni’s Room, would surprise everyone the following year with its white gay protagonist living in Paris, nothing African American about it. You can see his wry smile anticipating that coming surprise.

These photos from 65 years ago show us a hopeful young man whose marvelous life lay ahead of him. James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers, and certainly America’s greatest essayist, who was born at the right moment meant to articulate, define, explain and describe the racial, social and sexual changes taking place during his time, cathartic in a way no other American writer will ever be.

Van Vechten portrays him here brilliantly loud and clear. James Baldwin would be 96 years old today, August 2, 2020. Thank you, Jimmy, and happy birthday.


  1. LARRY Delinger

    Thanks Don. I’ve never seen these photos before. He’s so young.

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