Nobody Knows My Name
By James Baldwin
Why this book?
Baldwin first opened my eyes to the possibilities of memoir. When English teachers held up fiction as the literary ideal, I was drawn to Baldwin’s essays instead. I was a New Yorker, living not far from the author’s Harlem, and growing up at the time of the civil rights movement. Baldwin was writing autobiographical non-fiction that, knitted together individual temperament and social history. “I left America because I doubted my ability to survive the fury of the color problem here,” he wrote in Nobody Knows My Name. I read that paragraph as the daughter of Czech Jewish immigrants, white people who had survived both Nazism and Stalinism. Baldwin’s voice was like the voices I heard at home telling stories of the Second World War. It was both compelling and trustworthy. Fifty years later, I still think so.
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