James Baldwin: Early Novels & Stories | Go Tell It on the Mountain | Giovanni’s Room | Another Country | Going to Meet the Man (stories)
Zora Neale Hurston: Novels & Stories | Jonah’s Gourd Vine | Their Eyes Were Watching God | Moses, Man of the Mountain | Seraph on the Suwanee | stories
The James Baldwin volume contains the four books that established his reputation as a writer who fused unblinking realism and rare verbal eloquence. His first and perhaps most famous novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, tells the story, rooted in Baldwin’s own experience, of a preacher’s son coming of age in 1930s Harlem. Giovanni’s Room is a searching, and in its day controversial, treatment of the tragic self-delusions of a young American expatriate at war with his own sexuality. Another Country depicts the suicide of a gifted jazz musician and its ripple effect on those who knew him. Complex in structure and turbulent in mood, it is in many ways Baldwin’s most ambitious novel. The collection Going to Meet the Man includes the “Sonny’s Blues,” the unforgettable portrait of a jazz musician struggling with drug addiction, and seven other memorable stories.
Zora Neale Hurston’s free-flowing and frequently experimental fiction is exuberant in its storytelling and open to unpredictable and fascinating digressions. Jonah’s Gourd Vine, based on the lives of her parents and evoking in rich detail the world of her childhood, recounts the rise and fall of a powerful preacher in an all-Black town in Florida. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s lyrical masterpiece about a woman’s determined struggle for love and independence, employs a striking range of tones and voices to give the story of Janie and Tea Cake the poetic intensity of a myth. In Moses, Man of the Mountain, her high-spirited and utterly personal retelling of the Exodus story, Hurston again demonstrates her ability to use Black vernacular as the basis for a supple and compelling prose style. Seraph on the Suwanee, Hurston’s last major work, is set in turn-of-the-century Florida and portrays the passionate clash between a poor southern woman and her willful husband. The volume concludes with a selection of short stories, among them “Spunk,” “The Bone of Contention,” and “Story in Harlem Slang.”
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James Weldon Johnson: Writings
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man | Along This Way | God’s Trombones | editorials, essays, poems
Clothbound, slipcased edition | 906 pages
James Weldon Johnson’s career was one of extraordinary range, spanning the worlds of diplomacy (as a U.S. consul), politics (as NAACP Secretary), journalism, musical theater, and literature. The Library of America presents a collection of his writings that displays the many facets of a complex and impassioned writer. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, a novel that on its original anonymous publication was taken by many for an actual memoir, powerfully describes the inner development of a gifted, socially alienated man as he tries to come to terms with the constraints of racism. Along This Way is Johnson’s genial and enthralling account of his fantastically busy life, with a cast of characters including W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Clarence Darrow, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and many others. A selection of shorter prose confirms the variety of Johnson’s interests, as he comments on figures and topics including Marcus Garvey, Woodrow Wilson, lynching, anti-Japanese discrimination in California, American involvement in Haiti, changing trends in theater and poetry, and the significance of spirituals. Johnson’s poetry is represented by the full text of God’s Trombones and shorter works, including lyrics from Johnson’s Broadway songwriting days.
James Baldwin photo by Sophie Bassouls/Sygma via Getty Images.