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Revisit Go Tell It on the Mountain - LeVar Burton's First Book Club Pick

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
The great actor, author, and reader LeVar Burton chose “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin for his very first book pick on Fable. The book was published in the 1950s, but the novel’s themes of religious awakening, sexuality, racism, and self-realization still resonate in 21st Century America. You can find the book in the Fable store and download free Go Tell It on the Mountain discussion prompts

Why did LeVar Burton choose this book?

If you've never visited the LeVar Burton Book Club, now is a great time to try it. In the "Past Books" section, you can find all his commentary on this classic novel.LeVar has been inspired by James Baldwin’s work for many years. He once hosted a special “Celebrating James Baldwin” event at Symphony Space for the Selected Shorts program. During that event, Pantheon publisher Lisa Lucas introduced Baldwin's life and work. "Each of his works revealed something new. 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' had religion, family, and adolescence," she explained. "In presenting the memories and thoughts of members of the churchgoing Grimes family, the novel resembles a kaleidoscopic series of short stories." LeVar described the great novel in his first Fable Folio:

“Published in 1953, Baldwin’s classic novel tells the story of a 14-year-old boy named John as he comes to terms with his identity inside a strict and very religious family. It’s a semi-autobiographical novel, and Baldwin gives us a vividly detailed portrait of John’s life and world.” 

In this special Fable Reading Group Guide, we’ve collected everything you need to know to start reading “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Biography of James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York in 1924, walking the same streets as the protagonist of "Go Tell It on the Mountain." Baldwin served as a youth minister for a few years as a teenager in the Harlem Pentecostal church. Those early experiences would reappear throughout his writing career, beginning with Go Tell It on the Mountain. He wrote a play called "The Amen Corner" that revisited his memories of the Pentecostal church.Over at PBS, you can learn what role religion played in the life of James Baldwin. The great novelist once said: “Those years in the pulpit – I didn’t realize it then – that is what turned me into a writer, really, dealing with all that anguish and that despair and that beauty.”The documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" is now streaming on Netflix. It's a visual essay powered by Baldwin's momentous words. Here's a clip from that great film:
As LeVar explains in the book club, it took James Baldwin more than a decade to write this book, and he wrote pieces of it all around the world. Baldwin saw the novel as a key moment in his career as a writer:

"Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else. I had to deal with what hurt me most. I had to deal, above all, with my father.”

Go Tell It on the Mountain Book Reviews

Ever since the New York Times glowingly reviewed "Go Tell It on the Mountain" in 1953, readers can’t stop talking about the classic novel. Author Court Merrigan wrote about this first experience with the James Baldwin novel: “Go Tell It on the Mountain struck me speechless when I finished it. I had never read anything quite like it, and I remember swearing on the spot that I would re-read it regularly." https://www.tiktok.com/@glennybiko/video/6902242617287773446Writer Ayana Mathis took solace in the character of John in “Go Tell It on the Mountain” as a young Black person who also grew up in the Pentecostal church. Read more at the New York Times:

“In Baldwin’s pages, I found my every inarticulable anger, my chafing at the limitations of that church life, my shame and my pride — all illuminated in his pages… Baldwin’s sentences leapt off the page, as though I were huddled in a quiet corner with him, whispering about things only he and I could know. ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ is, in other words, among my beloveds.”

“It felt so real and so visceral for me,” said YouTuber Luxurious Blu, praising “the intense and powerful words” in James Baldwin’s novel.  
“Everyone should be reading James Baldwin right now,” wrote one fan on LeVar Burton’s Twitter page. “It’s amazing. Like he’s writing today!!” In one essay about “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Iranian-American writer and professor Azar Nafisi praised Baldwin’s refusal to be boxed in by his body or his beliefs. Here’s an excerpt:

“It captures an essential aspect of life in America, its contradictions and seductions, that bittersweet mix of love and hate that so many feel towards the country...Baldwin touched me like a close relative you never knew you had.”

James Baldwin Novels

You can read more of James Baldwin’s groundbreaking work at Fable.

Notes of a Native Son (1955)

Notes of a Native Son by James BaldwinWritten during the 1940s and early 1950s, when James Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength.

Giovanni’s Room (1956)

Giovanni’s Room by James BaldwinIn the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality.

Another Country (1962)

Another Country by James BaldwinSet in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, among other locales, Another Country is a novel of passions—sexual, racial, political, artistic—that is stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality.

The Fire Next Time (1963)

The Fire Next Time by James BaldwinCaustic, emotive, Pentecostal, and entirely inspiring essays that are as pertinent today as they were nearly sixty years ago: when he argues that it’s “entirely unacceptable that I should have no voice in the political affairs of my own country,” one can only wonder that there has been so little change in such a span of time.

If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)

If Beale Street Could Talk by James BaldwinIn the face of deep hatred and institutional injustice, love proves to be a transcendent force. This is the story of Tish, a 19-year-old mother-to-be, as she tries to clear the name of her partner after he was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. 

Quotes from Go Tell It on the Mountain

Fable readers have been highlighting their favorite "Go Tell It on the Mountain" quotations inside the LeVar Burton Book Club.You can highlight your favorite "Go Tell It on the Mountain" quotes from James Baldwin inside the Fable app. Just follow these simple instructions to share quotations Fable. We’ll add your favorite quotes to this article!Book Club Social Mode in Fable

"That moment gave him, from that time on, if not a weapon at least a shield; he apprehended totally, without belief or understanding, that he had in himself a power that other people lacked; that he could use this to save himself, to raise himself; and that, perhaps, with this power he might one day win that love which he so longed for."

“There are people in the world for whom ‘coming along’ is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive.”

"Her face became the face that he gave her in his dreams, the face that had been hers in a photograph he had seen once, long ago, a photograph taken before he was born. This face was young and proud, uplifted, with a smile that made the wide mouth beautiful and glowed in the enormous eyes. It was the face of a girl who knew that no evil could undo her, and who could laugh, surely, as his mother did not laugh now."

“The rebirth of the soul is perpetual; only rebirth every hour could stay the hand of Satan.”

"And John knew, in the moment his father’s eyes swept over him, that he hated John because John was not lying on the sofa where Roy lay. John could scarcely meet his father’s eyes, and yet, briefly, he did, saying nothing, feeling in his heart an odd sensation of triumph, and hoping in his heart that Roy, to bring his father low, would die."

“Folks can change their ways much as they want to. But I don’t care how many times you change your ways, what’s in you is in you, and it’s got to come out.”

“He stood for a moment on the melting snow, distracted, and then began to run down the hill, feeling himself fly as the descent became more rapid, and thinking: “I can climb back up. If it’s wrong, I can always climb back up.”

“Their singing caused him to believe in the presence of the Lord; indeed, it was no longer a question of belief, because they made that presence real.”

But don’t take our word for it!

Join the LeVar Burton Book Club and visit the "Past Books" section to read “Go Tell It on the Mountain” along with the iconic champion of reading! You can also discover more great LeVar Burton book recommendations featured in his Fable Folio page or read further about LeVar Burton's work with Fable on our blog.

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