Perceptive Words By James Baldwin To Ruminate On


Truthfully, I’ve only recently begun delving into the brilliant mind of the 20th century essayist James Baldwin, but I feel that it is in perfect timing. Not because it is Black History Month (what does that really mean, anyway, to a magazine dedicated to celebrating Black culture every single day?), but because I have reached a pivotal point in my young adulthood where I am far more inclined to genuinely appreciate his introspection. 

In this rewarding new journey into the world of James Baldwin, I’ve found quite a few gems along the way that are worth pondering over. In them, Baldwin reflects on solitude, love, suffering, spirituality, and the overall nature of the human condition. I’ve attempted to not include his most popular quotes (i.e. the ones instantly found on the first page of Google), as the buried words tend to hold the most weight. 

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“So what can we really do for each other except—just love each other and be each other’s witness? And haven’t we got the right to hope—for more? So that we can really stretch into whoever we really are? Don’t you think so?” – FromAnother Country” (Dial Press, 1962)


But it’s not possible to forget anybody you were that hung up on, who was that hung up on you. You can’t forget anything that hurt so badly, went so deep, and changed the world forever. It’s not possible to forget anybody you’ve destroyed.” From Another Country”(Dial Press, 1962)


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” – From Telling Talk from a Negro Writer”


“I had to go through a time of isolation in order to come to terms with who and what I was, as distinguished from all the things I’d been told I was. […] I remember feeling that I’d come through something, shed a dying skin and was naked again. I wasn’t, perhaps, but I certainly felt more at ease with myself. And then I was able to write.” — From a 1984 Paris Review interview


But don’t lose heart, dear ones—don’t lose heart. Don’t let it make you bitter. Try to understand. Try to understand. The world’s already bitter enough, we got to try to be better than the world.”  – From Another Country” (Dial Press, 1962)


“…Not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour…for the lack of it.” – From Giovanni’s Room”


“Whatever you describe to another person is also a revelation of who you are and who you think you are. You cannot describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.” – FromNotes of a Native Son”


“We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals. I attest to this: the world is not white. It never was white. It cannot be white. White is a metaphor for power and that is simply a way of describing Chase Manhattan Bank.” – From “I Am Not Your Negro”


“Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be. One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself—that is to say, risking oneself.” – From The Fire Next Time, published c. 1963


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“I guess it can’t be too often that two people can laugh and make love, too, make love because they are laughing, laugh because they’re making love. The love and the laughter come from the same place: but not many people go there.” – From If Beale Street Could Talk”


“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” – From “Letter From a Region In My Mind”


“Perhaps if you can accept the pain that almost kills you, you can use it, you can become better.”– From “Another Country” (Dial Press, 1962)


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The aim of the dreamer, after all, is merely to go on dreaming and not to be molested by the world. His dreams are his protection against the world. But the aims of life are antithetical to those of the dreamer, and the teeth of the world are sharp.” – From Another Country” (Dial Press, 1962)


“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.” – From “The Fire Next Time” 


“One must say Yes to life and embrace it wherever it is found—and it is found in terrible places; nevertheless, there it is.”


“One writes out of one thing only–one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.” – From Notes of a Native Son” (Beacon Press, 1955)


Ayanna Nicole

Hi! I’m Ayanna, a 26-year-old writer and artist. Although I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with two degrees in art and psychology, I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. By following my dreams and utilizing my creativity, I designed Jaro Magazine with the ultimate intention of bringing more positive stories in the black community to the forefront, while also highlighting our versatile and vibrant culture through Jaro’s four modes: film, books, art, and music. I’m into spirituality, nature walks, music festivals, poetry, traveling without a destination in mind, painting, and discussing everything out of the ordinary with other curious minds. Also, I'm an INFP!

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