James Baldwin quote about growing up reading



“I was born in Harlem, thirty-one years ago. I began plotting novels about the time I learned to read. The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that I certainly would not consider living it again. In those days my mother was given to the exasperating and mysterious habit of having babies. As they were born, I took them over with one hand and held a book with the other. The children probably suffered, though they have since been kind enough to deny it, and in this way I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and A Tale of Two Cities over and over and over again; in this way, in fact, I read just about everything I could get my hands on – except the Bible, probably because it was the only book I was encouraged to read. I must also confess that I wrote – a great deal – and my first professional triumph, in any case, the first effort of mine to be seen in print, occurred at the age of twelve or thereabouts, when a short story I had written about the Spanish revolution won some prize in an extremely short-lived church newspaper. I remember the story was censored by the lady editor, though I don’t remember why, and I was outraged.”

– James Baldwin, 1955.

James Baldwin portrait, taken in 1969
James Baldwin, 1969

“James Baldwin quote about growing up reading” sources:

Portrait of James Baldwin taken in 1969 by Allan Warren (no changes made) – Wikimedia / Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Beacon Press, 1955.


  • Reader donations help us continue publishing snapshots. If you can, please visit our Patreon page to donate. Your support is much appreciated.