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James Baldwin Playboy Interview


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Baldwin, James

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, short story writer, and poet whose focus on issues of racial discrimination made him a prominent spokesperson for racial equality, especially during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Baldwin grew up in Harlem and had a troubled relationship with his strict, religious stepfather. As a teenager, he became a preacher at a small church in Harlem. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1942, Baldwin moved to Greenwich Village and began publishing essays and short stories in national periodicals. Disillusioned with racism and homophobia in the United States, Baldwin left for his first extended stay in Paris, France, in 1948. He would go on to spend much of his life abroad living in Paris and later Saint-Paul de Vence, France, as well as in Turkey and Switzerland.

Baldwin published his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in 1953, which was followed shortly thereafter by a play The Amen Corner (1954) and a collection of essays Notes of a Native Son (1955). Many of Baldwin's novels, including Giovanni's Room (1956), Another Country (1962), and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968) engage the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class, particularly in the lives of African Americans and gay and bisexual men. His novels, plays, and essays explore the psychological effects of racism for both black and white Americans and reflect on the social upheaval of the civil rights era. Beginning in the early 1960s, especially following the publication of his best-selling book The Fire Next Time (1963), Baldwin became increasingly involved in social and political activism, using his platform as a literary celebrity to give lecture tours and interviews on race relations in the United States. Baldwin continued to write prolifically until his death in 1987 in France, where he was named Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1986.

Consists of sound recordings, a transcription, and editorial notes documenting multiple sessions of an interview of American writer James Baldwin conducted by Alex Haley (1921-1992) and Jim Goode (James A. Goode, d. 1992) in late 1967 and early 1968 for Playboy but never published in the magazine. At the time, Alex Haley was an interviewer and journalist for the magazine's monthly Playboy Interview feature, and Jim Goode was an articles editor. The interview is conversational and wide-ranging, with Baldwin responding to questions about his personal and artistic life, as well as about larger social issues surrounding racism, sexuality, politics, economics, and activism.

The earlier interview session conducted by Jim Goode, circa September 1967, is documented by a 170-page typescript transcription, with some handwritten corrections. Notations indicate that the transcription was made from four tapes, but the original sound recordings for this session are not included in the collection. In January 1968, Playboy editor Murray Fisher sent the transcription to Alex Haley for review, as indicated by a memo from his assistant. Sound recordings of later interview sessions conducted by Alex Haley, circa October 1967 through March 1968, are present on two open reel audiotapes, which have been digitized; these total three and a half hours in length. There are also four heavily annotated lists of questions for Baldwin drafted by several Playboy editors and journalists.

In the interview, Baldwin discusses his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood extensively, reflecting on his family and upbringing; his experience with religion and preaching; his schooling, early jobs, and friendships; as well as his later expatriatism in France (particularly so in the session with Jim Goode). Baldwin also speaks candidly about his sexuality in the context of his early relationships with both men and women, as well as physical threats he experienced due to both his sexual orientation and race. He also provides thoughts and critiques about African American civil rights and human rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Medgar Evers; activist organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); and politicians such as John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Ronald Reagan. He also describes events including the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP), which took place in Chicago in August-September 1967, and his meeting with Robert F. Kennedy on May 24, 1963.

Throughout the interview, Baldwin addresses legacies of racism and white supremacy in the United States and abroad, touching on the history of colonialism, genocide against Native Americans, and slavery, as well as contemporary power structures, opposition to which he describes as a type of "guerilla warfare." Other topics of conversation include the Vietnam War, FBI surveillance of black activists in the South, police violence and urban riots in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, the 1960s counterculture and student activist movements, white middle class liberalism, possibilities for an American socialism, the influence of money in politics, and the relationship between literature and politics.

From the estate of Alex Haley.

Purchase, 2017 (AM 2017-113).

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This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in April 2017. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in November 2017.

Open reel audiotapes were digitized in September 2017.

No materials were separated during 2017 processing.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Author
Kelly Bolding
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Access to digitized sound recordings is available in the RBSC reading room. For preservation reasons, physical access to original tapes is restricted.

Use Restrictions

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Collection Inventory

Interview with Jim Goode, circa 1967 September. 2 folders.
Scope and Contents

Consists of a typescript transcription.

Physical Description

2 folders

Materials Viewable Online
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Interview with Alex Haley, circa 1967 October-1968 March. 1 box.
Scope and Contents

Consists of sound recordings, totaling 3 hours and 38 minutes in length. These recordings were originally received on two 1/4-inch open reel audiotapes on 3" reels, labeled "A" (32101086143342) and "B" (32101086143359), which have been digitized. The apparent order of the tapes is 32101086143359_1, 32101086143359_2, 32101086143342_2, 32101086143342_1.

Existence and Location of Copies





Physical Description

1 box

Materials Viewable Online
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Interview Question Lists, circa 1967 September-1968 March. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Materials Viewable Online
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Memo to Alex Haley, 1968 January 9. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

Memo from Juli Bainbridge on behalf of Murray Fisher regarding the Jim Goode interview transcription.

Physical Description

1 folder

Materials Viewable Online
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Envelopes, 1968 April 1. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

Consists of empty envelopes, including a mailing envelope addressed to Alex Haley.

Physical Description

1 folder

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