Born in District Six, James has been a published author since the 1940’s and has produced five books of poetry, a collection of short stories, a novel and an anthology of poetry.
His first published collection of poetry Cry Rage (co-authored with Gladys Thomas and published in 1972) became the first collection of poetry to be banned by the Apartheid regime, most of his later publications were banned as well.
In 1974 he became the first black person to have established a publishing house (BLAC Publishing House 1974 -1991)
James was constantly harassed during apartheid, being detained, banned and denied a passport on many occasions.
Despite this he attended the Frankfurt Book Fair, and in 1982 he participated in the Cultural and Resistance Conference in Gaborone. He was awarded a Fellowship at Iowa University, U.S.A
He was a founding member and was patron of the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW) at its inception in 1987.
In 2004 he was the recipient of a national honour, the Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) for his “His excellent achievements in literature, contributing to journalism and his inspirational commitment to the struggle for a non-racial South Africa.
He has been awarded honoury doctorates by both UWC and Rhodes University.