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Harlem, like the proverbial nine blind men grasping different parts of an elephant’s anatomy, can be many things, depending how in touch you are with the community and its history. Residents who have lived there for years know that Harlem is more than a state of mind, as many writers have concluded. It is for them a very real and tangible enclave in New York City replete with a glorious past and a promising future. To journey along the arc of James Baldwin’s life is to experience a large chunk of Harlem’s history from the 1920s to the 1990s, and except for the community’s Gilded Age in the 1880s and 1890s, his years in the neighborhood are perhaps the most interesting and instructive.
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