Happy Pride Month everyone! This month our Goodreads challenge theme was “Pride”. To follow along with our Goodreads challenge and to continue celebrating Pride, our book of the month for June is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.
James “Jimmy” Baldwin was born in Harlem, 1924. Baldwin was an extremely gifted student and found his passion for writing at a very young age, publishing his first article “Harlem – Then and Now” in his school paper when he was only thirteen years old. In his early teen years, Baldwin struggled with the idea that he, as a black man in America, could successfully become an artist. At fifteen, Baldwin began meeting other artists in the now famous area of Greenwich Village. There he met many artists, including Beauford Delaney, a well known black painter at the time. Delaney became a huge influence and mentor to Baldwin and this helped him realize that he could succeed as an artist.
Baldwin’s first literary works were short stories and reviews. His first novel Go Tell It On The Mountain was published in 1953. However, it was Baldwin’s second novel “Giovanni’s Room” that caused a lot of controversy after its release in 1956, due to the novel’s homosexual and homoerotic content. Despite this controversy, Baldwin continued writing and publishing. He was always resistant to the negative labels people put on him.
As well as being a writer, Baldwin was also an activist and a social critic. He was close friends with other activists such as Medger Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X. His activism and social commentary would go on to be extremely important themes within his writing.
Baldwin has many publications that I would recommend reading. He is all around an amazing author, but this month we are focusing on one of his most controversial works, Giovanni’s Room. This book follows a young American man named David, whose girlfriend has left to Europe alone to decide if she would marry David, begins an affair with an Italian man named Giovanni. The novel is narrated by David and recounts “the night that is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life”, which is the morning of Giovanni’s execution.
The main themes of this novel are regarding homosexuality and social alienation. Before Baldwin wrote this novel, he had moved to Europe because he felt that the racism in America would not allow him to “be seen simply as a writer”. He also feared that being labeled as gay would stop him from being able to be a writer at all. In Giovanni’s Room, the protagonist David deals with the same things that Baldwin was dealing with at the time: choosing between the American and the European lifestyle, as well as dealing with society’s alienation of people it deems as “the other” or too different. If these themes and ideas sound interesting to you, definitely give Giovanni’s Room a read. It is completely worth it.
Here is a quote from the novel to get you hooked!
“I was guilty and irritated and full of love and pain. I wanted to kick him and I wanted to take him in my arms.”
― James Baldwin,
If Giovanni’s Room doesn’t really sound up your ally, check out some of Baldwin’s other works, such as: Notes of a Native Son, Go Tell it on The Mountain, or Another Country.
Happy reading and happy Pride Month!