Center for LGBTQ Studies (CLAGS)

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2001


In his essay, "The discovery of what it means to be an American," James Baldwin described how his exile in Paris led him to new self-knowledge about his national identity. Baldwin left the US to survive what he called "the color problem," but was surprised to find he shared a sense of being "not at home" with white Americans in Europe. He was American in ways he had not realized. Exile afforded him intellectual freedom, but his growing consciousness of the French-Algerian war led him to understand that "there are no untroubled countries in this fearfully troubled world." Leaving home gives one only temporary relief from ambiguity, responsibility, and identity.


This article was originally published in CLAGSNews, vol. 11, no. 3.



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