I’ve written previously, here and elsewhere, about how James Baldwin’s writing has impacted my life. Since I’m a black gay man who is himself a writer, that ought to surprise no one. The late Baldwin, who’s birthday is today, remains an icon in queer communities of color in particular.

Baldwin was a son of Harlem, both literally and metaphorically. He was born and raised there, and developed into an essayist and novelist in the shadow of the Harlem Renaissance, a time when black writers and artists were actively constructing a racial and political identity. Here’s how I described him in a collection of African American writings I edited several years ago:

>As an openly gay man, living in self-imposed exile most of his career, Baldwin’s position outside of both American and African American cultural bounds seemed to grant him unusual clarity in deconstructing race and racism, sex and sexuality in both worlds. His political writings have often been called prophetic.

His novels, meanwhile, often demand readers confront the tangled mess of race and sexuality. His characters struggle to understand how to love themselves and others within the toxic milieu of American racism. And millions of people like me have turned to those stories for insight in our own struggles. Many of us have, in the process, figured out how to make our love, in all its complexity, a revolutionary force. I know I have, and I owe at least a partial debt to Baldwin’s work.

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