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Google Doodle celebrates James Baldwin at the start of Black History Month USA

Google Doodle celebrates the brilliant American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin, who is remembered for his many literary works, which often explored themes of social justice.

On the1st February 2024, in honour of Black History Month USA, Google Doodle celebrated the life of the extraordinary writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. He was born on the 2nd August 1924 in New York City. He grew up in Harlem and helped raise his eight siblings. As a young teenager, he followed his step-father’s influence and became a junior minister at a church in Harlem. He also got involved in his high school’s magazine where he began publishing poems, short stories and plays. His time working on the magazine honed his literary skills and solidified his passion for writing.

In his late teens and early 20s, he took on odd jobs to support his family and, in parallel, set a goal to write a novel. In 1944, Baldwin’s promise as a writer earned him a fellowship, but he found himself struggling to write his first novel which ended up taking 12 years to produce. This novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, is a semi-autobiographical story which is now considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century.

At age 24, Baldwin made the decision to move to Paris for another fellowship. Distance from New York allowed him to write more freely about his personal experience. He wrote essays such as Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time. His depictions of Black masculinity in America were as poetic as they were groundbreaking , and they resonated far beyond Black communities. He released his second novel, Giovanni's Room, in 1956. The novel was one of the first to bring in-depth characterizations of homosexuality to mainstream culture, well before the gay liberation movement had gained steam.

In the following years, Baldwin continued to write essays and novels that addressed racial tensions in America head-on. In 1974, he wrote If Beale Street Could Talk, a tragic love story set in Harlem. The story was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 2018.

In 1986, Baldwin earned the Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur, the highest French order of merit. He went on to receive numerous awards during and after his lifetime. But, Baldwin’s influence is much greater than any award — his works provided valuable representation to people whose stories often went untold, and inspired many civil rights leaders who, in turn, made progress in society that impacted generations.

Thank you, James Baldwin, for your massive contributions to the literary cannon - your voice has shaped how we approach conversations of identity and social justice.

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