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James McBride

The Color of Water

Putnam

1997 Nonfiction

The Color of Water
Recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Award in 1997 for his memoir, The Color of Water, James McBride is a jazz musician as well as a writer, and the jazz tradition of complementary solos can be seen in his written work. The story of life lived on both sides of the color line, McBride's memoir gives equal space to the voice of his white mother (who was disowned by her Orthodox Jewish family for marrying a black man) and his own questions about navigating black identity as a mixed-race person.

Born in 1957, McBride was the youngest of eight children born to Ruth and Andrew McBride, a deeply religious couple who had founded a black church in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. After her first husband died, Ruth McBride went on to marry again and with her second husband, also a black man, have four more children. All twelve of her children went on to attend college, and most of them also completed graduate studies. McBride first wrote about his mother in an essay for the Boston Globe; enthusiastic responses from readers encouraged him to expand the work into a book.

The Color of Water takes its title from a conversation McBride had with his mother, who, he writes, would not acknowledge her whiteness to her curious son. In a conversation when he was a child, McBride recalls asking his mother what color God is, to which she replied "God is the color of water. Water doesn't have a color." In time, as McBride describes in the book, he grew to realize his mother was white – and to understand her courage in undertaking life as "the only White person in sight." His mother's race and his own biracial heritage, prompted questions of McBride's own racial identity; his book offers a richly nuanced picture of how fluid and textured identity ultimately is.

Contributed By: Kate Tuttle

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Blog Posts about James McBride

Let These Books -- From Poetry To The Political -- Kick Off Your 2017 Reading List

How does one structure a year in reading?The New York Times published the answers of 47 writers and artists who reflected on the books they chose over the past year. Their responses create a fascinating skein of reading and thinking, and include essays from four Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recipients. The entire conversation, which weaves from basketball hall-of-famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to filmmaker Ava DuVernay to former House speaker Newt Gingrich to author Maxine Hong Kingston, is enlivening, a hopeful way to face into a new year.Praise for... Read More →

The Incredible Staying Power Of James McBride's "The Color of Water"

by Gail Arnoff, adjunct professor, John Carroll University  The first time I read The Color of Water, I was deep in the woods of Otter Creek, a lovely wilderness in West Virginia. In my hammock strung between two trees, with the musical creek flowing just below our campsite, I began to read. From the first page I was fascinated by the story of James McBride and his mother, Ruth Jordan McBride. I didn't climb out of the hammock until hours later, when I'd finished the book. That summer I was planning a seminar, “Questions of Identity,” for... Read More →

Anisfield-Wolf Winners Both Attend And Object To The Brooklyn Book Festival

  Photo credit: Belem Destefani Brooklyn, N.Y. -- The Brooklyn Book Festival—a celebratory, cerebral, free event that runs one Sunday in September—attracted tens of thousands of readers, and this year, a spike of controversy. Anisfield-Wolf jurors Rita Dove and Joyce Carol Oates read from their work, soaking up warm applause, while two recent fiction winners—Junot Diaz and Kamila Shamsie—signed a petition calling on the festival to sever its support from Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs. “It is deeply regrettable that the... Read More →

James McBride Delivers Soul-Stirring Renditions Of Gospel Favorites During "Good Lord Bird" Tour

Few writers have made the kind of spectacular, multimedia splash onto the literary scene the way James McBride has. McBride, 56, first attracted attention in 1996, for his memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. It sat atop the New York Times bestsellers list for two years, selling more than two million copies and winning an Anisfield-Wolf award for nonfiction. His first novel, 2002's The Miracle of St. Anna, enjoyed a movie adaptation from director Spike Lee, for which McBride adapted the screenplay. But Song... Read More →

Debating The Best Book Lists: Does Amazon's "100 Books To Read In A Lifetime" Get It Right?

Wither the best book list? Inherently inane and crazy-making, these are also undeniably good conversation starters. Amazon has posted the latest iteration: its best “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.” It includes two Anisfield-Wolf prize novels: Junot Diaz' “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved," as well as James McBride’s memoir “The Color of Water.” Also on the list is the immortal “Invisible Man” from Ralph Ellison, which won an Anisfield-Wolf Landmark Achievement, and books by... Read More →

"Most Of What I Do Fails": Honest Observations From James McBride

It's almost hard to believe 1997 Anisfield-Wolf winner James McBride when he talks about his failures. His 2002 novel, Miracle at St. Anna, was turned into a movie Spike Lee a few years later and his debut, The Color of Water, was on the New York Times bestseller's list for two years. But in this deeply personal and highly observant video, McBride shows us the true honesty that keeps readers coming back again and again. Read More →
  • James McBride

    James McBride

    Born: 1957

    www.JamesMcbride.com

    Other Works

    • Miracle at St. Anna (2002)
    • Song Yet Sung (2008)

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