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James Baldwin was beginning to be recognized as the most brilliant black writer of his generation when his first book of essays, Notes of a Native Son, established his reputation in 1955. No one was more pleased by the book’s reception than Baldwin’s high school friend Sol Stein. A rising New York editor, novelist, and playwright, Stein had suggested that Baldwin do the book and coaxed his old friend through the long and sometimes agonizing process of putting the volume together and seeing it into print.
Though a world of difference separated them–Baldwin was black and gay, living in self-imposed exile in Europe; Stein was Jewish and married, with a growing family to support–the two men shared the same fundamental passion. Nothing mattered more to either of them than telling and writing the truth, which was not always welcome. As Stein wrote Baldwin in a long, heartfelt letter, “You are the only friend with whom I feel comfortable about all three: heart, head, and writing.”
Native Sons is a celebration of one of the most fruitful and influential friendships in American letters.