Talking at the Gates
A Life of James Baldwin
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Biography & memoir
Campbell has blended both scholarship and personal recollection
New York Times
First-rate ... the best biography so far
A lively book that is immensely readable
Frank and affectionate
Times Literary Supplement
Frank and affectionate . . . Campbell brings a mixture of intellectual integrity and something like truculence to the biographer's task . . . He plays along effectively with Baldwin's great zest for life, his love of the comic, his self-deprecating, balancing knowledge of himself as both poseur and prophet
Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison: A Biography
Scrupulously researched and uncovers new material about Baldwin’s life. Campbell knew Baldwin well, but his affection for the man has not dulled his critical pen
Campbell doesn’t let friendship get in the way of solid criticism…this is a vivid, candid portrait of a fascinating man
A new edition fit for our socially unstable times
About the Book
James Baldwin was born into the squalor of a Harlem tenement and transcended an early life of setbacks and racism. A storefront preacher at the age of fourteen, he supported his entire family - mother and eight siblings - before he began writing for prestigious journals such as The Partisan Review. Troubled by his fame, his sexuality and his colour, he was a great drinker and socialiser with wild periods of gregariousness and monastic retreats during which he wrote feverishly. By the time he died in 1987, his books such as The Fire Next Time, Go Tell It on the Mountain and Nobody Knows My Name had become modern classics.
James Campbell knew Baldwin for ten years. For this book, he interviewed many of Baldwin's friends and examined several hundred pages of correspondence. He quotes from the vast, disturbing file that the FBI compiled on Baldwin and discusses the writer’s turbulent relationships with Norman Mailer, Richard Wright and Marlon Brando, as well as his friendship with Martin Luther King.
Elegantly written, candid and original, Talking at the Gates is a comprehensive account of the life and work of a writer who believed that 'the unexamined life is not worth living'.
James Campbell was born in Glasgow. Between 1978 and 1982 he was editor of The New Edinburgh Review. Among his books are Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and others on the Left Bank, and This Is the Beat Generation. As 'J.C.', he wrote the NB column on the back page of the Times Literary Supplement, a selection of which will be published later in the year. His critically acclaimed biography of James Baldwin, Talking at the Gates, was published by Polygon in February 2021.
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