14 books directly related to James Baldwin 📚

All 14 James Baldwin books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

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

Book cover of James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

By James Baldwin,

Why this book?

Unlike the well-known The Fire Next Time, this fourth essay collection published in 1972 received relatively little attention, despite being a turning point in Baldwin’s career. I love it because it is nakedly personal and shows Baldwin’s vulnerability as he traveled in the American South in the 1950s and as he grappled with being perceived as a “freak” by the heterosexist members of the Black Power movement while working on that book. Its homage to the power of memory and truth entwines with the homage to the writer's mother, Berdis, and highlights Baldwin’s deepening, and still underappreciated, commitment to…

From the list:

The best books on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

Book cover of Nothing Personal

Nothing Personal

By Richard Avedon, James Baldwin,

Why this book?

This book should be much better known outside of academic circles! It grows out of a friendship between the famous photographer, Richard Avedon, and James Baldwin, who both attended the famous DeWitt Clinton high school in the Bronx. Avedon’s gorgeous photographs are accompanied by Baldwin's experimental, impressionistic prose, combining into what some scholars have characterized as a “photo - text.” Decades before we began drowning in the onslaught of Internet-provided visual media, it bound the pleasures of reading and seeing great art in one elegantly edited volume; I recommend reading it out loud. For those of us endowed with sight…

From the list:

The best books on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

Book cover of The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin

The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin

By Michele Elam (editor),

Why this book?

This book grew out of the labor of love both scholarly and personal. It brings together three generations of scholars and diverse, interdisciplinary approaches to this complex and still largely misunderstood and underappreciated Black queer writer and theorist of 20th-century US identity. Michele Elam’s introduction deftly reevaluates and situates Baldwin as a 20th-century master for contemporary readers here and now, while the essays collected here provide cutting-edge scholarship and much nuance and fresh insight. Theoretically rich and with several exquisitely written essays, it touches upon all of the major aspects of the writer’s fascinating life and works.

From the list:

The best books on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

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

Book cover of James Baldwin: A Biography

James Baldwin: A Biography

By David Leeming,

Why this book?

This is still the most comprehensive and detailed account of the writer’s life and works. Leeming worked closely with Baldwin as an assistant and secretary after first meeting him in Istanbul. 

I love this book, for it was my introduction to Baldwin and his life as an exile and one of the most powerful social and cultural critics of twentieth-century America. It’s written accessibly—the life-story narrative flows easily and one feels the author’s compassion for and understanding of the writer’s evolution, process, as well as his specific works. 

It has taught me that the best biographies both reveal and conceal…

From the list:

The best books on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

Book cover of Conversations with James Baldwin

Conversations with James Baldwin

By James Baldwin,

Why this book?

I discovered this compilation of many well- and lesser-known interviews when I began working on Baldwin in the year 2000. I love it as it gives us the writer in his own words, tracing his artistic development and views on his craft, exile, race, gender, and sexuality, as well as US politics, culture, and national identity. We follow Baldwin’s journey from 1961, with the famous Studs Terkel interview introducing “the young Negro writer,” to the “Last Interview” with Quincy Troupe, conducted in 1987, just days before Baldwin’s death in his beloved house in southern France. In between, we get a…

From the list:

The best books on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

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

Book cover of A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists

By Rachel Cohen,

Why this book?

Cohen spent a year driving through America accompanied only by two crates of books. She realised, reading them, how many of their authors had met, more or less significantly, one another, from Mark Twain and Henry James to James Baldwin and Elizabeth Bishop. The result was this daisy-chain book. It’s fascinating, illuminating, and utterly charming.
From the list:

The best group biographies

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 (translator),

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

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

Book cover of Notes of a Native Son

Notes of a Native Son

By James Baldwin,

Why this book?

Baldwin writes both fiction and non-fiction beautifully and intimately and if you don’t know his non-fiction work then this is a very good place to start. Across a number of essays, he elegantly sets out the deep struggle faced by Black Americans and articulates how a different humanity, in America and beyond, and a different future can be realized. 

From the list:

The best books about protest

Book cover of Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.,

Why this book?

Professor Glaube leads us, from his own observations, and those of James Baldwin, through the precarity and failings of modern America. For someone that is new to living in the country and to the details and nuances of its history, it completely opened my mind. It is also beautifully written and though the content is challenging and uncomfortable, it is a joy to read.

From the list:

The best books about protest