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Notes of a Native Son

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  10,648 ratings  ·  506 reviews
Since its original publication in 1955, this first nonfiction collection of essays by James Baldwin remains an American classic. His impassioned essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written.
--back cover
Paperback, US Edition, 192 pages
Published 1984 by Beacon Press (first published 1955)
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Naadhira Bigger Thomas is the protagonist of Native Son by Richard Wright. He is a black boy with high hopes but becomes a viticm of the American Racism + Law…moreBigger Thomas is the protagonist of Native Son by Richard Wright. He is a black boy with high hopes but becomes a viticm of the American Racism + Law (less)
Naadhira The first half of this book is based on critique and analysis of popular Black works such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Carmen Jones, Ebony Magazine and…moreThe first half of this book is based on critique and analysis of popular Black works such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Carmen Jones, Ebony Magazine and Native Son by Wright. If you haven't read or saw these references it gets kind of confusing.

The Second half of Notes of a Native Son is reflective and autobiographical. I would start with the Chapter "Notes of a Native Son" to Part Three which describes Baldwin's experience living in Europe. (less)

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“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.” - James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin was a fascinating and eloquent man, one who I would have loved to have had a conversation with. His insights into racial issues are truly phenomenal.

This is a collection of short essays about Baldwin's experience with race. In the first three essays Baldwin critiques various books and movies on black c
Elyse Walters
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my 3rd James Baldwin book this year. .....first time as an audiobook.

"Notes of A Native Son", is a great intro. into other books Baldwin has written.

These 'notes' are a collection of essays -- written when Baldwin was in his 20's
during the 1940's and early 50's. It was fascinating learning about Baldwin as a young man and his experiences being Black in America through the civil rights movement-- and steps forward.
His memories about unfairness is piercing. I felt his bitterness - then
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites
Powerful and precise as all of the essays are, Baldwin hits his stride with the titular piece, in which he embeds personal meditations on his father's death into a social analysis of the Harlem riot of 1943 and race relations in America. There's nothing else quite like it in the collection, though the essays about Paris in the third and final section are almost as brilliant.
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won't destroy you.
- James Baldwin from "The Negro in American Culture", Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205

In his dramatic and provocative short piece Notes of a Native Son (1955) included in the ten essay volume of the same title, Baldwin connects a series of coincidental events, unifying them in a brilliantly conceived aesthetic
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brian by: Rowena
Around this time last year friend Rowena and I did a buddy-read of this collection of Baldwin essays. It wasn’t the first Baldwin book that I’d read, but it was the first book of his non-fiction. It was also the first book that I’ve read that made me feel SHAME for being a white man. The full weight of my race’s mistreatment of African Americans became personal in the light of Baldwin’s writing. It doesn’t matter that I was born six years after the Civil Rights Act, that I never owned slaves or ...more
Society, it would seem, is a flimsy structure, beneath contempt, designed by and for all the other people, and experience is nothing more than sensation—so many sensations, added up like arithmetic, give one the rich, full life.

I already know that I love James Baldwin's fiction (Giovanni's Room and If Beale Street Could Talk) so I am not surprised to feel similar about this collection of essays. But, this being a collection, of course there was an uneven appreciation as compared to a complete, c
J.L.   Sutton
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Better known for works such as Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son (published 2 years later in 1955) is an important collection of essays which highlights issues Baldwin would continue to address. Subjects of his essays include his own home life, life in Harlem, the inequities of separate but equal treatment of blacks in 1940s and 50s America as well as his own experiences in France after WWII. Baldwin's prose still resonates and is relevant today.
Το πρώτο πράγμα που σημειώνει ο Baldwin στο Autobiographical notes είναι: I was born in Harlem.... Μια απλή και σύντομη φράση που όμως κατατοπίζει πλήρως τον αναγνώστη, κι εκείνον που πρώτη φορά έρχεται σε επαφή με τον συγκεκριμένο συγγραφέα, ως προς τη σημασία που έχει η κληρονομιά και το birthright στο έργο του.
It is difficult to make clear that he is not seeking to forfeit his birthright as a black man, but that, on the contrary, it is precisely this birthright which he is struggling to rec
Barry Pierce
This collection of essays is a rarity by the fact that every essay is as good as the previous one. There are no duds in this collection. This is by far one of the best collections I've ever read. Baldwin's prose is just so astoundingly beautiful. I may be premature in saying this but I feel that this may be Baldwin's greatest work. A collection so important, so accessible, so unforgettable that not reading this would be an injustice to you and your bookshelf.
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Scorching per usual with Baldwin.

The first essays feature criticism/analysis of the arts, quite interesting but not my favorite part of the book.

The essays on his father (particularly devastating, sad, insightful) and living in France were my favorites. Deeply powerful, moving essays.

His experience with the French justice system (l'affaire du drap de lit) is completely surreal but believable, the epitome of kafkaesque. It is terrifying, he gets sucked into the blackhole of the French prison sys

I was racking my brains trying to come up with the words that will show you who Baldwin is, what he writes. Then I said, “You’re silly my girl, you can of course let him speak for himself”.

What he has to say on seeing reality and working with it. How the present is a result of the past and how by denying the past, we deny the reality of us.
It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, t
Joshua Rigsby
The titular essay in this collection is phenomenal, one of the best I've ever read. It deals with race (as nearly everything from Baldwin does), but also the severely personal and complicated relationship that Baldwin has with both his father and his own identity. Everything is stirred into this smoking wok of anger and regret that is unlike anything I've ever read. It is amazing.

The rest of the pieces fail to reach the height of "Notes of a Native Son." Many of them are cultural criticism that
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: black-writers
MY VIDEO ESSAY ON THIS BOOK: https://youtu.be/vFBHQEfsq1o

You might be surprised by the low rating but, unfortunately, I can't justify a higher one. James Baldwin is an author I deeply admire and look up to. He is an incredibly talented writer and I want to read his complete bibliography. I'm surprised myself that I didn't click with Notes of a Native Son. I was so sure that I would love it but alas! it didn't work for me.
The story of the Negro in America is the story of America – or, more preci
Read with a group of friends in conjunction with a viewing of the Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro . Experiencing both film and essay collection in tandem, what kept coming to mind over and over was Jan Kott’s influential phrase “Shakespeare, our contemporary,” which forwards the idea that every generation discovers some aspect of the Bard that seems to speak specifically and almost peculiarly to them, making him feel continuously contemporaneous. Well, I couldn’t get the revised ...more
It's depressing that our treatment of migrant workers in the middle east is similar in many ways to how the whites treated black Americans. Khaleeji countries, in particular, are being built on the back of South Asians yet the Arabs treat them with nothing but condescension and contempt that often lead to abuse. True, they're paid for their labor and aren't literally slaves, but they're nevertheless considered inferior and Other, perhaps even inhuman and evil. And this treatment, this way we loo ...more
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first Baldwin nonfiction. Fitting, since Notes of a Native Son was his first nonfiction. There's no denying that Baldwin was an exceptional writer and an insightful thinker. That said, Notes of a Native Son was a bit more of a mixed bag than expected.
Miroku Nemeth
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just finished James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" yesterday. Published in 1955, it has lost none of its relevance on many levels, and one of these is his argument that the representations of African Americans in and through literature and in movies and the role in which devices such as the "protest novel" are used to assuage liberal guilt and really do not bring about true societal change and instead foster a false sense of understanding and identification that still maintains the "otherne ...more
Elizabeth A
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, 2017, non-fiction
"People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."

I don't recall the last book I read that gave me such a mental workout. It took me a while to read this one as I had to stop and ponder what the man said, and much of my copy is highlighted. I would have loved to read this one in a classroom setting, so was delighted that my GR pal Elizabeth agreed
Ken Moten
"When I was told, 'it takes time,' when I was young I was being told it will take some time before a Black person can be treated as a human being here, but it will happen. We will help to make it happen. we promise you.

Sixty years of one man's life is a long time to deliver on a promise, especially considering all the lives preceding and surrounding my own.

What has happened, in the time of my time, is the record of my ancestors. No promise was kept with them, no promise was kept with me, nor can
Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him to thus preserve his simplicity and avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers, or his neighbors. He is inescapable aware, nevertheless, that he is in a better position in the world than black men are, nor can he quite put to death the suspicion that he is hated by black men therefore
Very well written and powerful. And worth rereading. The introduction by Edward jones, a well-known author in his own right, was also good. I want to read his The Known World.

My only criticism would be that I found Part I slow going and would recommend casual readers come back to it later. Although touching on Baldwin's usual themes they revolve around the books "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "Native Son" and the movie "Carmen Jones" and I haven't read/seen these so I didn't understand a lot of what he wa
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

In the foreword to this collection of essays Edward P. Jones writes:
And so he continues on, page after page, offering light and understanding and a ruthless insistence not so much that he is correct with his vision of matters, but that to ignore his side of things is to see only a partial picture th
May 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
While these essays on the issue of race in the 1960s and before were very interesting to listen to, and the topic still as pertinent today as it was when this collection was released, I found the whole book a little dated, although at the same time with some very interesting sections, particularly towards the end when he recounted his experiences in Paris and Switzerland as a black man.
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
This collection of essays covers a lot of ground. Baldwin writes critiques and analyses of creative works of the day that include African Americans. He writes about his family, especially his strained relationship with his father. He writes about being a Black man in Europe during the 1940s, which I found to be a stark contrast to Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. I much prefer Baldwin's commentary to Miller's book.

Baldwin's writing is so intense that I wish I'd read this in print rather than li
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Baldwin wrote the essays in this book when in his 20's. They were published in book form when he was 31. In 1984, when he was 60, he wrote an introduction for the 30 anniversary edition. I am glad for that introduction as it provided context for the essays.

The first essay is a review of the book Uncle Tom's Cabin. The second essay is a review of the book Native Son. The third essay is a review of the movie Carmen. All three are blistering and thought-provoking. Baldwin's take is from such a diff
May 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The focus of these essays is, of course, racism in America, and since they were written in the late 40s and early 50s, one might expect them to be dated. Baldwin, however, has sufficient breadth of vision to transcend topicality to make pertinent and scintillating observations about the human condition generally. Thus, in the first essay, "Everybody's Protest Novel," he notes that fitting into a racial stereotype is but one instance of the societal categorization from which "we endlessly struggl ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-studies
James Baldwin was one of the rarest of writers in the 20th century. Not only was he black and homosexual when it was not popular to be either (is it even acceptable to be so now?), but he is genuine, honest and addresses the toughest, most uncomfortable issues in the black as well as white worlds. He criticizes Richard Wright's "Native Son" (which does happen to be one of my favorite novels), but in other places has admitted his continued admiration for Wright, even after his harsh criticism. Ba ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommend
James Baldwin on visiting his dying father in the hospital:

"The moment I saw him I knew why I had put off this visit so long. I had told my mother that I did not want to see him because I hated him. But this was not true. It was only that I had hated him and that I wanted to hold on to this hatred. I did not want to look on him as a ruin: it was not a ruin I had hated. I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before my review, in which I quote liberally from Baldwin as he invariably is far more eloquent than I will ever be, I want to share one quote in the foreword, for no other reason than it is beautiful and everything I love about him.

“About my interests: I don’t know if I have any, unless the morbid desire to own a sixteen-millimeter camera and make experimental movies can be so classified. Otherwise, I love to eat and drink. It’s my melancholy conviction that I’ve scarcely ever had enough to eat
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
So engaging I read it twice over the weekend/beginning of the week. He is acerbic, sometimes bitterly so, but oddly optimistic. I read the '84 ed. where he writes about the difference in age (31 when it was published and 60 when this ed came out) and was struck by what he wrote then, with more experience and wisdom accrued, about change. Plus I highlighted the shit out of his essays, observational gems in every selection. And the The Melodeers account of their "Journey to Atlanta" remains ludicr ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Shadow and Act
  • Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays
  • The Outsider
  • Black Looks: Race and Representation
  • Selected Essays
  • A Child of the Century
  • The Contours of American History
  • The Sweet Science
  • Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
  • Manchild in the Promised Land
  • An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy Vol. 1
  • An Autobiography
  • Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America
  • The Promise of American Life
  • Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society
  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a mini
“The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.” 37 likes
“I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one's own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.
I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”
More quotes…