Essays on Race, Family, and History
120 pages, 5.50 x 8.50
Paperback | 9780268035150 | March 2009
Hardcover | 9780268205904 | August 2022
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268086695 | March 2009
- Press Kit
- Author Bio
In 1991, acclaimed poet Kenneth A. McClane published Walls: Essays, 1985-1990, a volume of essays dealing with life in Harlem, the death of his alcoholic brother, and the complexities of being black and middle-class in America. Now, in Color: Essays on Race, Family, and History, McClane contributes further to his self-described "autobiographical sojourn" with a second collection of interconnected essays. In McClane's words, "All concern race, although they, like the human spirit, wildly sweep and yaw."
A timely installment in our national narrative, Color is a chronicle of the black middle class, a group rarely written about with sensitivity and charity. In evocative, trenchant, and poetic prose, McClane employs the art of the memoirist to explore the political and the personal. He details the poignant narrative of racial progress as witnessed by his family during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. We learn of his parents' difficult upbringing in Boston, where they confronted much racism; of the struggles they and McClane encountered as they became the first blacks to enter previously all-white institutions, including the oldest independent school in the United States; and of the part his parents played in the civil rights movement, working with Dr. King and others. The book ends with a tender account of his parents in the throes of Alzheimer's disease, which claimed both their lives.
Kenneth A. McClane is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of seven poetry collections and a book of essays.
“Kenneth McClane argues that the inclusion of a jazz phrase in the midst of another obviously discrete modality becomes an act of communion that 'honors the fragile possibility for mutuality.' He is right, for he does this skillfully in Color. An exciting find, the volume is a compendium of sophisticated essays rendered with deceptive simplicity. Color, always insightful, sometimes inexplicably tender, is that rare volume, seldom encountered, that moves us beyond measure.” —Mari Evans, author of Continuum: New and Selected Poems and Clarity as Concept: A Poet’s Perspective
“Ken McClane's latest collection proves that he is one of the finest essayists currently plying the trade. Graceful, incisive, humane, Ken's writing is both beautifully wrought and deeply informative about how we live life. All of us practicing essayists can only marvel in delight at his skill and envy his accomplishment. I have known Ken since my days in graduate school over twenty-five years ago and I still feel now as I felt then: when I grow up I want to be half the writer Ken McClane is.” —Gerald L. Early, author of The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture and This is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s
“In his finely crafted memoir, McClane weaves significant themes in twentieth-century race relations—the arbitrariness of racial designations, the impact of the Civil Rights movement, North and South, and rival versions of ‘Affirmative Action’—through the stories he tells about his parents’ lives. Sharply written, the essays highlight some of the sources of McClane’s anger as well as the breath and depth of his understanding of the American racial landscape.” —Patrick Miller, co-series editor, African American Intellectual Heritage
“Kenneth McClane’s voice is unique in American letters: pragmatic; contemplative; intriguingly moody; at times unabashedly and movingly sentimental. He chronicles a world of black people that is little-known and even less-imagined. Color is a wonderful book of beautifully written, understated essays by an important writer who has steadily contributed to American letters.” —Elizabeth Alexander, Yale University
“The essays that comprise Color are mighty in their directed honesty and uncompromising views of the lived racialized world observed with an intellectual curiosity and wise generosity that astonishes on every page. Through it all, the words hum with love, so that even the pained heart sings.” —Helena Maria Viramontes, author of Their Dogs Came With Them
“. . . the honesty at the heart of Kenneth McClane’s essays is humble and fine, rich in insights. . . . McClane’s point is that the realities of race have not yet been fully confronted in America, and this phenomenon results in the festering of denial and pain.” —ForeWord
"Acclaimed poet and literary scholar McClane follows Walls (1991), observations on life as an African American, with a new collection of interconnected essays covering disparate subjects with the locus on race. Exploring the importance of memory and identity with gentle recollections of stories told by his parents and earlier memories of racial discrimination and humiliation, McClane offers a vivid personal perspective on race.” —Booklist
“ . . . McClane is neither an angry young man with a message nor someone with a one-sided political agenda. Instead, he comes across as what he is at Cornell, a teacher asking his readers to reflect on their own lives. This title is recommended for comprehensive Black studies collections, to complement the more extensive volumes of Michael Eric Dyson, Gerald Early, Bell Hooks, and other better-known African-American essayists.” —Multicultural Review
". . . These eleven anecdotal essays provide glimpses into McClane's personal development through their poetic precision and their ability to speak to each other. While the topics that McClane addresses, including the challenges of caring for ailing parents, racial oppression that stymies educational and professional growth, colorism, and art's role in strengthening the human spirit, have been treated by many Black writers past and present, he provides a fresh lens through which we can view the continuing relevance of these issues. . . . [P]eople on both sides of the 'race question'—those who daily feel and see the effects of institutionalized racism and interpersonal prejudice as well as those who believe that we live in a post-racial America—will find ample food for thought in McClane's essays, which teach not through overt didacticism but through a carefully shaped and beautifully inflected meditation on self, other, and their intersection." —Callaloo