The Fire Next Time

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The Fire Next Time
First edition cover
AuthorJames Baldwin
CountryUnited States
PublisherDial Press
Publication date

The Fire Next Time is a 1963 non-fiction book by James Baldwin. It contains two essays: "My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation," and "Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind." The first essay, written in the form of a letter to Baldwin's 14-year-old nephew, discusses the central role of race in American history. The second essay deals with the relations between race and religion, focusing in particular on Baldwin's experiences with the Christian church as a youth, as well as the Islamic ideas of others in Harlem.

The book was first published by The New Yorker and owing to its great success, it was subsequently published in book form by Dial Press in 1963, and in Britain by Penguin Books in 1964; both essays in the book had previously been published in The Progressive and The New Yorker, respectively. Critics greeted the book enthusiastically; it is considered, by some, one of the most influential books about race relations in the 1960s.[1] It was released in an audiobook format in 2008 and narrated by Jesse L. Martin.

The book's title comes from the couplet "God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water but fire next time" in Mary Don't You Weep, a Negro spiritual.[2][3]


The book includes two essays that were written in the 1960s during a time of segregation between White and Black Americans.

The first essay is a letter to Baldwin’s nephew, where he compares his nephew to the men in their family including Baldwin’s brother and father. He tells his nephew about America’s ability to destroy Black men and challenges his nephew to convert his anger due to mistreatment as a Black man into having a passionate and broad outlook on the Negro experience.[4]

The second essay addresses the detriment of Christianity on the Black community and how Baldwin’s journey of being a teen pastor to completely pulling away from the church because it felt like a repression of his full experience of humanity.[4] He then recounts his dinner with Elijah Muhammad where Muhammad educated Baldwin on the Nation of Islam in hopes to get him to join that movement. In this section Baldwin describes how Black Muslims have made a “black god” to avoid the oppression of a “white god” that Christianity has established within the Black community.[5]


Jacquelyn Dowd Hall wrote an article that focused on the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, building on Baldwin's work. Baldwin's piece examined the issue of racism mainly in his area of Harlem, New York, and Hall emphasized that the racial issue they confronted in America was not a sectional but a national problem.[6]

Another article that expands on Baldwin's new religious view was written by Jon Nilson, a theology professor. In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin focused on how Christianity was corrupted. Observing that Baldwin challenged the Catholic Church, Nilson said that when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968, it almost seemed like The Fire Next Time had come true.[7]

In December 2016 Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin, a 2016 musical theatrical tribute to James Baldwin by musician Meshell Ndegeocello and based on The Fire Next Time was premiered at the Harlem Stage in Harlem, New York.[8]

In July 2015 Ta-Nehisi Coates released an article on The Atlantic as modernized version of Baldwin’s letter to his nephew called “Letter to My Son,” and later released an entire book called Between the World and Me that talks about the current state of the Black experience in America.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. Washington, Robert (2001). The Ideologies of African American Literature: From the Harlem Renaissance. ISBN 9780742509504.
  2. ^ Michael Bernick, "Race, Intermarriage and 'The Fire Next Time' in California", Fox & Hounds, 21 August 2012.
  3. ^ F.W. Dupee, "James Baldwin and the 'Man'", The New York Review of Books, 1 June 1963
  4. ^ a b Zakov, Altar. "The Fire Next Time-the-fire-next-time/ Copyright Information".
  5. ^ Pakrasi, B. (1965). "Review of The Fire Next Time". The Journal of Negro History. 50 (1): 60–62. doi:10.2307/2716413. ISSN 0022-2992. JSTOR 2716413.
  6. ^ Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. "The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past". Journal of American History. 91 (4): 1234.
  7. ^ Nilson, Jon (2013). "James Baldwin's Challenge to Catholic Theologians and the Church". Theological Studies. 74 (4): 886.
  8. ^ Als, Hilton (December 5, 2016). "James Baldwin, Onstage". The New Yorker.
  9. ^ Dyson, Michael Eric (2015-07-23). "Can Ta-Nehisi Coates Measure up to the Legacy of James Baldwin?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  10. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2015-07-04). "Letter to My Son". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved 2019-03-15.

External links[edit]