"Everyone had always said that john would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself. Not until the morning of his fourteenth birthday did he really begin to think about it, and by then it was already too late."

–fromGo Tell It on the Mountain

 

James Baldwin occupying the stage in the historic debate against William F. Buckley held at Cambridge University, and sharing his thoughts on the American dream.

 

James Baldwin’s coming-of-age story Go Tell It on the Mountain, based in part on Baldwin’s childhood in Harlem, was first published on this day in 1953.This novel was Baldwin’s first major work. With a potent combination of lyrical compassion and resonant rage, he portrays a fourteen-year-old boy questioning the terms of his identity. John Grimes is the stepson of a fire-breathing and abusive Pentecostal preacher in Harlem during the Depression.

The action of this short novel spans a single day in John’s life, and yet manages to encompass on an epic scale his family’s troubled past and his own inchoate longings for the future, set against a shining vision of a city where he both does and does not belong. Baldwin’s story illuminates the racism his characters face as well as the double-edged role religion plays in their lives, both oppressive and inspirational.