James Baldwin: Living in Fire

Pluto. Oct. 2019. 244p. ISBN 9780745338545. $27;. LIT
Interest in novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist James Baldwin (1924–87) has grown in the decades since his death, spurring a number of new works examining his life, including Raoul Peck’s critically acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro. Here, Mullen (American studies, Purdue Univ.; W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line) investigates the author’s key themes and emphasizes the influence of figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and others. While not an exhaustive biography (see books by James Campbell, Douglas Field, and David Leeming), or a literary evaluation of Baldwin’s fiction and nonfiction, this work perceptively probes social and political topics that deeply concerned Baldwin throughout his career: organized religion, the Black Power movement, homosexuality, racism, American culture, and anticolonialism. Includes scholarly notes; the photographs and index to be published in the final copy were not seen.
VERDICT A clear, incisive writer, Mullen succeeds with providing a fresh perspective on an author he so obviously admires. Recommended for readers seeking a broader understanding of the opinions of one of the great writers of the 20th century.

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