People Passing by Pera Palace Hotel… James Baldwin

Pera Palace Hotel, the most beautiful example of the neoclassical architectural movement in Istanbul, was opened in 1895 with a magnificent ball. The hotel, designed by Alexandre Vallaury, has opened its doors to famous and essential names from all over the world since the day it opened. Among these names is the founder of our country, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, famous writers Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie, successful director Alfred Hitchcock and Greta Garbo, the most beautiful woman in the world cinema. James Baldwin also stayed for a while at Pera Palace Hotel, which witnessed the history of Istanbul. Let’s take a look at the path of the American writer to the Pera Palace Hotel.


A Black Writer Amid Racism

Irkçılığın Ortasında Siyahi Bir Yazar


 Born in the United States in August 1924, James Arthur Baldwin grew up in a poor ghetto neighborhood with mostly black citizens. Unfortunately, in America, where racism is expected not to be experienced due to its cosmopolitan social structure, there has been a prejudice against black people since ancient times. As a result, black citizens were bought and sold as “slaves” and made to work as workers for the “white” races.

The America of the 1950s was seen as the heyday of American history up to that time. While the winds of Rock ‘n’ Roll swept the world with convertibles, the conservative family and social structure continued on the other side of the coin. With eight siblings, James was the eldest child, and the Baldwins sent their eldest son, James Baldwin, between the ages of 14 and 16, to become a church minister to keep up with this conservatism. It was at this time that Baldwin wrote his first semi-autobiographic novel and his first theatrical play.


The Quest for Freedom: Paris

After graduating from high school, Baldwin worked in low-paying jobs in Greenwich Village, New York City’s bohemian neighborhood; however, he did not neglect to improve himself during this period. Baldwin, who could no longer stand the rigid politics and central authority system of America, and wants to be more productive in literary terms; In 1948 he went to Paris, where he lived for eight years.

He wrote his second and most influential novel, Giovanni’s Room, in Paris. The reason why the novel made such a buzz was probably its theme. The novel was about the life of an American in Paris torn between his love for a man and a woman. It is no coincidence that James Baldwin wrote this work in Paris. Europe was more advanced in equality and human rights than America at that time.


An Activist Defending His Rights

Baldwin returned to his native country in 1957 and became an active participant in the civil rights struggle that swept the country. He then wrote his essay “Nobody Knows My Name” on the relationship between black and white races in America. He also handled the same relationship theme in his novel “Another Country”.


A Friendship Growing in Istanbul

İstanbul'da Yeşeren Bir Dostluk


 Baldwin’s way, who spent the 1960s in Turkey, of course, also fell into Pera Palace Hotel. He wrote six works during the 10-year period he lived in Turkey. Moreover, James Baldwin, a close friend of actor and theater director Engin Cezzar; According to Cezzar’s memoirs, he completed the novel “Another Country”, published in 1962, in Istanbul, at the house of the couple Engin Cezzar and Gülriz Sururi. As seen in the photo above, Baldwin seems to have liked to feed the pigeons in Eminönü. It seems that he has adapted quite well to his life in Istanbul!

James Baldwin died on December 1, 1987, in France due to stomach cancer. He left behind the memories of someone who fought for his rights, which should not be forgotten.

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