James Baldwin (1924–1987) is the author and narrator of The Fire Next Time. He was an acclaimed novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, and social critic. His work is often autobiographical in nature and deals with themes of inequality, highlighting in particular discrimination on the basis of race and sexual orientation. Baldwin grew up in Harlem but moved to France at the age of twenty-four after growing tired of the constant racial discrimination he faced in America. Many of his works also deal with his experiences as an expatriate writer.
In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin reflects on his experiences with religion and the justifiable anger that so many young black people felt in the aftermath of World War II. Baldwin argues that in order to achieve lasting change, black people must move past this anger and accept white people with love, no matter how little white people might deserve it.
After moving to Paris, Baldwin wanted to be thought of as more than “merely a Negro writer.” In France, he became involved with cultural radicalism and began publishing work in anthologies, most notably in the anthology Zero.
Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953 and can be described as a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel. The Fire Next Time, by contrast, offers nothing fictional in its mission to educate both black and white Americans. In the essays, Baldwin speaks directly to young black men and shares his own experiences. The Fire Next Time was also praised for showing white people what it is like to be black in America.