James Baldwin The FBI File Edited by William J. Maxwell
Available in book form for the first time, the FBI's secret dossier on the legendary and controversial writer.

Decades before Black Lives Matter returned James Baldwin to prominence, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI considered the Harlem-born author the most powerful broker between black art and black power. Baldwin’s 1,884-page FBI file, covering the period from 1958 to 1974, was the largest compiled on any African American artist of the Civil Rights era. This collection of once-secret documents, never before published in book form, captures the FBI’s anxious tracking of Baldwin’s writings, phone conversations, and sexual habits—and Baldwin’s defiant efforts to spy back at Hoover and his G-men.

James Baldwin: The FBI File reproduces over one hundred original FBI records, selected by the noted literary historian whose award-winning book, F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, brought renewed attention to bureau surveillance. William J. Maxwell also provides an introduction exploring Baldwin's enduring relevance in the time of Black Lives Matter along with running commentaries that orient the reader and offer historical context, making this book a revealing look at a crucial slice of the American past—and present.

TitleJames Baldwin
SubtitleThe FBI File
AuthorEdited by William J. Maxwell
PublisherSkyhorse Publishing
ImprintArcade Publishing
Published6 June 2017
Dimensions8.00 x 10.00in.
IllustrationsB&W photos throughout.

About the author

William J. Maxwell is professor of English and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of the widely acclaimed F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, winner of a 2016 American Book Award, and New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism between the Wars. He is also the creator and curator of the “F.B. Eyes Digital Archive,” which presents high-resolution copies of the FBI files of African American authors obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. He lives with his family in St. Louis, Missouri.

"This compendium offers an unquestionably unique look into the life of one of America’s most esteemed thinkers, whose work has seen a resurgence as a centerpiece of the Black Lives Matter movement."—Publishers Weekly

"Maxwell presents the actual documentation in chronological order, using brief discussions to provide valuable context . . . He adeptly curates the strange hoard of documentation, but the primary sources will be most appreciated by completists. An unsettling demonstration of how a paranoid, reactionary government can treat significant artists."—Kirkus

"Disturbing, inspiring, and eye-opening . . . an enlightening and outrageous portrait of the FBI's harassing surveillance of a brilliant 20th-century writer and activist."—Shelf Awareness

"Maxwell should be congratulated . . . James Baldwin: The FBI File is exciting and humorous in all the right and wrong historical ways."—Atlanta Black Star

Praise for F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2015
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of 2015

"[An] immensely important story about the black authors that we thought we knew, from the 'notorious negro revolutionary' Claude McKay to the Black Arts poet Sonia Sanchez. . . . [A] welcome model for seeing state interference in culture as a two-way street."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"F. B. Eyes is pitched at both academic and general readers. It makes an unexpected addition to studies of twentieth-century African American literature and succeeds in presenting J. Edgar Hoover as a more complex figure than James Baldwin's telling description of him: as "history's most highly paid (and most utterly useless) voyeur."—Douglas Field, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] bold, provocative study. . . . Maxwell's passion for the subject spills onto every page of his detailed, persuasive documentation that 'the FBI [was] an institution tightly knit (not consensually) to African-American literature.'"—Publishers Weekly (a Publishers Weekly pick of the week)

"[S]tartling. . . . Much of what Maxwell has discovered . . . paints a sobering picture of state-sanctioned repression and harassment over decades. It's a tribute to the strength of the panoply of FBI-targeted writers, intellectuals and leaders that they, for the most part, toughed it out and remain with us today as a fundamental part of the fabric of American history and letters."—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"[T]his well-researched volume illustrates the paranoia and self-censorship that altered the course of African American literature for decades as a result of the bureau's surveillance. This scholarly work will appeal to academic readers with a particular interest in African American literature or the FBI."—Library Journal

"[T]he book's fresh perspective on the FBI's fitful tango with both its targets and its own intentions gives twenty-first-century artists potentially more daring variations, in the NSA age, on the arch replies of Wright, Ellison, Hughes, et al., to the spies. But the prospect can never neutralize the queasy, infuriating sense of so much officially sanctioned energy-squandering on generations of writers who wanted little more than to be taken more seriously than their ancestors. . . . The lurid and revealing testimony collected in F.B. Eyes calls to mind the sage counsel offered by John le Carr's fictitious traitor in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Secret services, he explains, are 'the only real measure of a nation's political health, the only real expression of the subconscious.'"—Gene Seymour, Bookforum

"F.B. Eyes is a startling look at how racism has influenced the highest levels of authority." —John T. Slania, Book Page

"[R]iveting. . . . F.B. Eyes is scintillating scholarship; for those invested in the literary and extra-literary lives of African American authors it holds all the intrigue of a pulp spy novel."—Adam Bradley, Chronicle Review

"[Maxwell] brilliantly and chillingly examines how for 50 years Hoover and the FBI monitored the literary production of African American writers. . . . The volume reads like a detective thriller as it uncovers what Maxwell calls the 'ghostreading' practices of the FBI."—Choice

"Professor Maxwell's book and . . . website are a treasure trove for readers and researchers alike, especially those with an interest in political history and literary history."—Robin Lindley, History News Network

"Wickedly amusing. . . . Genius."—Alan M. Wald, Modern Philology

"Solid and often eye-opening."—John Woodford, Against the Current

"Maxwell does an excellent job in thoroughly exploring FBI investigations of black writers and this unique writer-critic interplay. . . . F.B. Eyes does well in illuminating the interplay between bureau surveillance and literary production."—Jared Leighton, American Studies

It's possible to view James Baldwin: The FBI File as a mixed-media, nonfiction satire of officially sanctioned racist paranoia run amok. One could also praise Maxwell for having sculpted from this mount of random documents some ramshackle version of the Hoover-bashing novel Baldwin himself intended to write."—Book Forum

"Maxwell shows that Baldwin is the 'literary conscience, touchstone, and pinup' for this generation’s activists, connecting a black queer-led movement with a black queer writer whose voice reaches across generations. . . . Baldwin emerges as a more complex individual in the process. Even those familiar with his work will find a deeper appreciation of what he endured and the cost he paid for speaking truth to power."—Advocate
ISBNs: 9781628727371 978-1-62872-737-1 Title: james baldwin category:HIS ISBNs: 9781628727388 978-1-62872-738-8 Title: james baldwin category:HIS 
Back to top