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On James Baldwin

By Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín’s personal account of encountering James Baldwin’s work, published in Baldwin’s centenary year.

Acclaimed Irish novelist Colm Tóibín first read James Baldwin just after turning eighteen. He had completed his first year at an Irish university and was struggling to free himself from a religious upbringing. He had even considered entering a seminary and was searching for literature that would offer illumination and insight. 

Inspired by the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tóibín found a writer who would be a lifelong companion and exemplar.

From On James Baldwin

Baldwin was interested in the hidden and dramatic areas in his own being, and was prepared as a writer to explore difficult truths about his own private life. In his fiction, he had to battle for the right of his protagonists to choose or influence their destinies. He knew about guilt and rage and bitter privacies in a way that few of his White novelist contemporaries did. And this was not simply because he was Black and homosexual; the difference arose from the very nature of his talent, from the texture of his sensibility. “All art,” he wrote, “is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story, to vomit the anguish up.”

On James Baldwin is a magnificent contemporary author's tribute to one of his most consequential literary progenitors.

Colm Tóibín is a renowned Irish novelist, poet, essayist, journalist, playwright, professor, and literary critic. He is the author of ten novels, including Long Island; The Magician, winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award and adapted for the BAFTA award-winning film of the same name; The Testament of Mary; and Nora Webster; as well as two story collections, several books of criticism, and a collection of poems, Vinegar Hill. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and has been named the 2022-2024 Laureate for Irish Fiction by the Arts Council of Ireland. In 2023, he received the iBAM! (Irish Books, Arts and Music Celebration)  Award for literature. 

Three times shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York City.

Published by Brandeis University Press. Distributed by the University of Chicago Press

Praise for Colm Tóibín
“Tóibín writes with unparalleled fluidity and grace.”—Booklist

“On every subject, Tóibínʼs writing is what people these days inevitably describe as nuanced, a word that has become a kind of shorthand for expressing a personʼs rare ability to understand – or to try to understand – the foibles of others (how sad that this should be thought unusual). But he can be gripping, too.”—The Guardian

“Tóibínʼs work displays the kind of depth and sensitivity that few authors can offer.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Tóibín creates suspense out of the simplest emotions: fear, love and, most poignantly, regret.”—Time

“Tóibín . . . [is] his generation's most gifted writer of loveʼs complicated, contradictory power.”—Los Angeles Times

Publication Date:
August 2, 2024
Cloth $19.95 | ₤16.00 | €18.00
168 pages | 5.25 x 8 in.
ISBN-13: 978-1-68458-247-1