My Dungeon Shook
Baldwin next published Notes of a Native Son, a collection of essays, in 1955. Baldwin turned to plays but had difficulty finding theaters willing to produce a play written by and about African Americans. He next wrote a novel about a love affair between two white men in post-War France. He was rejected by American publishers for writing from a white perspective and presenting homosexuality explicitly and sympathetically. A UK publisher agreed to publish Giovanni’s Room in 1956. Soon after, he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.and starting working to raise money for the movement and was dubbed the “spokesman of the civil rights movement” by the media, though Baldwin always rejected this title.
In 1961 he published another work of non-fiction, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son, a collection of essays about civil rights, art, and culture, including his essay “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy,” a response to Norman Mailer, in which Baldwin criticizes Mailer for sexualizing and fetishizing black people. Nobody Knows My Name was Baldwin’s first best seller, and solidified his place as the most famous and important African American writer of the time. Baldwin moved to Istanbul in 1962 to find the time and isolation needed to return to writing and there he completed Another Country (1962). This was his most commercially successful book.
Take no one’s word for anything, including mine—but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.
James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook”
In August 1961, Baldwin met with Elijah Muhammed to interview him for The New Yorker. Published as a 20,000 word essay that took up most of The New Yorker’s Nov 17, 1962 issue, the essay was later published with Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook,” a letter to his nephew, as The Fire Next Time, one of the best sellers of 1963. It earned Baldwin $65,000 and the cover of Time.