Sunday, September 30, 2007

American Writers: James Mc Bride

Earlier this year I finished reading James McBrides' second book Miracle at St. Anna (Putnam Publishing, February 2002), which is an historical novel that chronicles a Black World War II soldier's participation in the liberation of a concentration camp. The story centers around four Black American soldiers in World War II, a band of Italian partisans, and an Italian boy, who encounter a miracle, though perhaps the true miracle lies in themselves. It's the kind of book you literally can't put down, one that paints characters in a way that you feel you can reach out and touch them.

I found out about the power of McBride's pen years ago when I read The Color Of Water (1996), an amazing book that was the #1 bestseller for months on the New York Times book list. The book recounts the life of Ruth Jordan McBride, born Ruchel Dwarja Zylska to a Polish Orthodox Jewish family that emigrated to the U.S. in 1921, her marriage to a black Baptist minister and her efforts to raise twelve children. The biography explores the slippery notions of race and identity in the modern era.

In it, he recalls growing up as one of twelve siblings in the all-black housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white. The object of McBride's constant embarrassment and continuous fear for her safety, his mother was an inspiring figure, who through sheer force of will saw her dozen children through college, and many through graduate school. McBride was an adult before he discovered the truth about his mother: the daughter of a failed itinerate Orthodox rabbi in rural Virginia, she had run away to Harlem, married a black man and founded an all-black Baptist church in her living room in Red Hook. In her son's remarkable memoir, she tells in her own words the story of her past. Around her narrative, James McBride has written a powerful portrait of growing up, a meditation on race and identity, and a poignant, beautifully crafted hymn from a son to his mother. The book is simply a gem.

This multi-talented individual was chosen by American composer, producer and jazz legend Quincy Jones to write his autobiography for Doubleday Books, which turned out to be another bestseller. James is the recipient of several awards for his work as a writer and a composer. His literary awards include the 1997 Anisfield Wolf Book Award. His awards for musical theater composition include the 1996 American Arts and Letters Richard Rodgers Award, the 1996 ASCAP Richard Rodgers Horizons Award, and the American Music Theater Festival's 1993 Stephen Sondheim Award.

He has written songs (music and lyrics) for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Gary Burton, Everett Harp, Rachelle Farell, and PuraFe among others. He has toured with a variety of artists, including Michael Jackson and jazz vocalist Little Jimmy Scott. His award-winning jazz, hip-hop musical "Bobos" premiered in 1993 at the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia and won the prestigious Alton B. Jones Foundation Grant. James served as musical director of the acclaimed Billie Holiday musical "Lady Day," and wrote the scores for the musicals "All Roads Lead Home" and "Harlem Kids Symphony" written in 1993 for the Osaka, Japan Manaichi Broadcasting System. He has written children's songs for Silver Burdett Textbooks (Simon & Schuster), and for the PBS television character "Barney." James studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received a masters in journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22.

He worked as a journalist for eight years at The Boston Globe, People Magazine, Rolling Stone and The Washington Post before his musical career took hold. Find out more about this unique American at:

Research info gathered at:

Not here's a poem without the water added:

Eye Glance Or Glide

Scales uncolored in themselves
produce a series of rainbows

Blue delicate curly petals with
leaves flat almost dandelions

Almost invisible glacier tundra
peat bog prairie

All alone in the yard
silver lawnmower blades

The sun trees flowers that
exist grabs all my attention

What about more delicate
redwood needles in the shadows

Sun so brilliant here
giant lilies grow in the shade

Cut straight down the center
as hand lotion soothes the mind

Poem first published at:
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