As an American expat in France, Baldwin found literary success with his debut novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in 1953. But it was his first nonfiction book, published two years later, that cemented his reputation as a cultural seer: the essay collection Notes of a Native Son, which explored race relations, African-American identity and literature in America and Europe. The book’s title invoked Richard Wright’s Native Son, and in its most famous essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” Baldwin skewers the elder writer’s book, claiming that it put a political agenda above heart and literary merit. (Baldwin took Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to task for similar reasons.) Baldwin’s polemic ended his once friendly relationship with Wright; Notes of a Native Son endures as his defining work, and his greatest.
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