A quote from the introduction to James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name

Few writers speak to me so directly as does James Baldwin. The way he asks the fundamental questions “who am I and why am I here,” is precisely how I’ve always asked them of myself. I can only hope to achieve the kind of courageous self-examination he did.


“In America, the color of my skin had stood between myself and me; in Europe, that barrier was down. Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. It turned out that the question of who I was was not solved because I removed myself from the social forces which menaced me-anyway, these forces had become interior, and I had dragged them across the ocean with me. The question of who I was had at last become a personal question, and the answer was to be found in me.

I think there is always something frightening about this realization. I know it frightened me-that was one of the reasons I dawdled in the European haven for so long. And yet, I could not escape the knowledge, tho God knows I tried, that if I was still in need of havens, my journey had been for nothing. Havens are high-priced. The price exacted of the haven-dweller is that he contrive to delude himself into believing he has found a haven. It would seem, unless one looks more deeply at the phenomenon, that most people are able to delude themselves and get through their lives quite happily. But I still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living: and I know that self-delusion, in the service of no matter how small or lofty cause, is a price no writer can afford. His subject is himself and the world and it requires every ounce of stamina he can summon to attempt to look on himself and the world as they are.”

James Baldwin
Nobody Knows My Name

  • Jude Rene Montarsi

    James Baldwin’s work had a profound influence on me as I became aware of myself in the context of U.S. Society in the late 1960s and 70s. I have had to begin arduous, painful task of weeding out my rather large library. There are certain books I cannot bring myself to part with–my collection of James Baldwins essays and novels being one.

    • I couldn’t bear to leave mine in storage. I carry mine around, in spite of my current living arrangement, and I have most of them on my kindle!