James McBride, journalist and jazz musician, will be guest of the Kentucky Author Forum on April 25, 2001 in Louisville. McBride will discuss his book The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother(Riverhead/Putnam).
McBride’s book retraces his mother’s footsteps and recreates her remarkable story. Born Ruchel Zylska to a Polish Orthodox Jewish family that emigrated to the U.S. in 1921, Ruth Jordan McBride married a black Baptist minister and raised 12 children. The biography explores the slippery notions of race and identity in the modern era. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parent’s loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.
Fleeing small-town life in Virginia, where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high, Ruth settled in New York City, married a black minister and founded the all-black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. “God is the color of water,” Ruth taught her children, firmly convinced that life’s blessings and life’s values transcend race. Confronting adversity and racism, Ruth’s determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.
Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self-realization and professional success. The Color of Water is a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.
McBride is a graduate of Oberlin College and Columbia School of Journalism. An award-winning author and composer, McBride wrote for the Boston Globe, People, and the Washington Post before his music career took hold. His literary awards include the 1997 Anisfield Wolf Book Award. 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.
A professional saxophonist, McBride recently toured with the legendary Little Jimmy Scott and played in both the Montreal and Newark Jazz Festivals. His 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. His song credits range from collaboration with greats such as to Anita Baker to children’s songs for the PBS character “Barney.”
At the evening forum, McBride will be interviewed by Christopher Lydon, former host of “The Connection” on WBUR Boston, heard locally on WFPL 89.3 FM (Public Radio Partnership). Lydon has been a distinctive voice in print, television and radio journalism for more than 30 years.