This article looks at a number of James Baldwin's early essays. These include “Stranger in the Village” (1953), “A Question of Identity” (1954), “Encounter on the Seine: Black Meets Brown” (1950) and “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American” (1959). In these essays Baldwin resolves the contradiction between his sense of himself as an individual and his racial identity by affirming both his American citizenship and his racial identity as a source of cultural strength and authority. He conceives of race in dialectical terms, with the African American as the dynamic agent in a process envisaged as leading to an overcoming of both whiteness and blackness in favour of a reformulated American nationalism.
James Miller recently completed a Ph.D. on James Baldwin's fiction and non-fiction at King's College London. He teaches twentieth-century American literature at the American Studies Department, King's College London. His first novel, Lost Boys, will be published by Little, Brown in July 2008.