• Carl Van Vechten
  • James Baldwin in 1955

“I was born in Harlem thirty-one years ago. I began plotting novels at about the time I learned to read. The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that I certainly would not consider living it again.”

So begins James Baldwin’s autobiographical note to his essay collection Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955 when he was 31 years old. The essays had been written when Baldwin was just in his 20s; he had already published his novels Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and Giovanni’s Room (1954) by the time Notes came out. Even so, he told a friend that he thought it was too early in his life for a “memoir.”