James Arthur Baldwin was an American poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and social critic. He was born August 2, 1924 to Emma Berdis Jones. Baldwin's mother never told him the name of his biological father. Emma Jones left Baldwin's father when Baldwin was a young child because of his father's use of drugs. She then moved to Harlem and married a young preacher by the name of David Baldwin. In James Baldwin's essay he explains the harshness he received from his stepfather compared to his other siblings. His stepfather died the summer of 1943. His funeral was held on the same day as the Harlem Riot of 1943. This day was portray in one of his essays called, "Notes of a Native Son". When Baldwin was fifteen, his high-school friend, Emile Capouya, skipped school one day and, while in Greenwich Village he met Beauford Delaney, a painter. Emile gave James the address, and suggested a visit. James, who worked at a sweatshop nearby and dreaded going home after school, visited Beauford. He became a mentor to Baldwin, and Beauford's influence brought him to his first realization that a black person could be an artist. While working odd jobs, he wrote short stories, essays, and book reviews. He also was a preacher like his stepfather but was better gifted. .
During his teenage years in Harlem and Greenwich Village, Baldwin started to realize that he was gay. Baldwin was taunted by American prejudice against blacks and gays, so Baldwin left the United States at the4 age of twenty-four and settled in Paris, France. His move was not only the desire to distance himself from American prejudice, but to see himself and his writing beyond an African-American context. Baldwin did not want to be just a "Negro writer". Also, he left the United States desiring to come to terms with his sexual uncertainty and leave the hopelessness that many young African American men like himself surrendered to in New York.