The FBI’s James Baldwin Obsession


Writing for Publishers Weekly, William J. Maxwell examines the 1,884-page FBI file on James Baldwin—the longest on record—as part of his effort to obtain surveillance information on African American authors through the Freedom of Information Act. Along with reports on literary giants like Lorraine Hansberry and Amiri Baraka, Baldwin’s file reveals a complex relationship between Hoover’s office and the authors, characterized by intermittent respect for the literary work and a healthy fear of the writers’ standing as leaders of the black community. In monitoring the authors and assessing the perceived threat as their influence grew, Maxwell notes that “the Bureau’s extensive files on African American authors are, among other things, weird but unmistakable works of literary criticism.”

Dinah Fay is a poet, copywriter, and social media maven living in Brooklyn. She is the co-host of the Brick City Speaks reading series in Newark, where she is pursuing an MFA in writing from Rutgers University. More from this author →