The best James Baldwin books 📚

Browse the best books on James Baldwin as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

By Anna Malaika Tubbs

Why this book?

A fascinating exploration into the lives of three women ignored by history, the mothers of Martin Luther King Jr, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X. By tracing the intellectual, political, and emotional strands of each woman’s life, Anna Malaika Tubbs uncovers hidden complexities within black motherhood that illuminate our understanding of the past while also shedding light on the overlooked contributions of black women today.

From the list:

The best novels about the complexities of being Black in America

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Book cover of James Baldwin: Collected Essays

James Baldwin: Collected Essays

By James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because one can’t understand power without being beholden to it systemically and repeatedly, all the while dissecting power’s discontents. Baldwin’s words may seem to strike only to America’s core, but every marginalized person will find truth in them. As an Egyptologist, I rely on Baldwin to tell me what oppressed people in an authoritarian regime thought but could not commit to paper.

From the list:

The best books on power and the powerless

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Book cover of A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

By David Mura

Why this book?

Master teacher David Mura’s A Stranger's Journey addresses long-overlooked issues of race and identity in publishing and in the standard teaching of creative writing and he brilliantly advocates for a more inclusive and expansive definition of writing craft. Though this book is partly aimed at educators, he offers incredibly useful craft lessons as well, primarily through his deft analysis of work done by writers ranging from James Baldwin to Mary Karr to ZZ Packer. In a world that no longer accepts the notion that our greatest authors have to be “dead white men,” Mura offers a necessary window into the…

From the list:

The best craft books for essayists and memoirists

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Book cover of How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired

How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired

By Dany Laferrière, David Homel

Why this book?

Of course this title will catch anyone’s attention, but I’m including it here because of how mundane the plot is. It’s just people people’ing and therefore experiencing and learning. They just happen to be all the things they are. It’s a fun and funny ride living in a small Parisian apartment with these characters, eating their food, and laying with their friends. 

From the list:

The best books to read when you need a lil bit of everything to finish one thing

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Book cover of The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

By Vivian Gornick

Why this book?

Sometimes I need a book that will inspire me not to continue writing, but to start; kinda like when I binge watch YouTube book talks—that’s the feeling this book brings over me—inspired. It’s a book that helps me write anything because I’m a person who struggles with—yet craves the ability to— strip a piece as bare as possible. Strip a story of its fluff and dissect its roots. I need to know what to save for later, and Gornick expressing the difference between situation and story is something I always go back to in order to help declutter my work. 

From the list:

The best books to read when you need a lil bit of everything to finish one thing

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Book cover of The Fire Next Time

The Fire Next Time

By James Baldwin

Why this book?

Again, not so much an explicit memoir (though it is framed by Baldwin’s “Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation”) but a portrait of a community, and the values it stands for, values heralded by everyone from Zora Neale Hurston to Albert Murray to Paul Laurence Dunbar to... Sam Cooke, the subject of my biography. The world that Baldwin described possessed, he wrote, “a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster… very moving and very rare. Perhaps we were, all of us – pimps, whores, racketeers, church members, and…
From the list:

The best biographical reading from a biographer

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