James McBride at the 2013 Texas Book Festival.
|Born||September 11, 1957|
New York City, US
|Alma mater||Oberlin College|
|Notable works||The Color of Water The Good Lord Bird. (National Book Award, 2013)|
McBride's father, Rev. Andrew D. McBride (August 8, 1911 – April 5, 1957) was African-American; he died of cancer at the age of 45. His mother, Ruchel Dwajra Zylska (name later changed to Rachel Deborah Shilsky, and later changed again to Ruth McBride Jordan; April 1, 1921 – January 9, 2010), was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. James was raised in Brooklyn's Red Hook housing projects and was the last child Ruth had from her first marriage, the last child of Rev. Andrew McBride, and the eighth of 12 children.
I'm proud of my Jewish history....Technically I guess you could say I'm Jewish since my mother was Jewish...but she converted (to Christianity). So the question is for theologians to answer. ... I just get up in the morning happy to be living."
His memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (1995), describes his family history and his relationship with his mother.
Books and screenplays
McBride is well known for his 1995 memoir, the bestselling book The Color of Water, which describes his life growing up in a large, poor American-African family that was led by his white Jewish mother. McBride's mother was strict and the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. During her first marriage to Rev. Andrew McBride, she converted to Christianity and became a devout Christian. The memoir spent over two years on The New York Times bestseller list, and has become an American classic. It is read in high schools and universities across America, has been translated into 16 languages, and sold more than 2.5 million copies.
In 2002, he published a novel, Miracle at St. Anna, drawing on the history of the overwhelmingly African-American 92nd Infantry Division in the Italian campaign from mid-1944 to April 1945. The book was adapted into the movie Miracle at St. Anna, directed by Spike Lee, released on September 26, 2008.
In 2005, McBride published the first volume of The Process, a CD-based documentary about life as lived by low-profile jazz musicians.
His 2008 novel, Song Yet Sung, is about an enslaved woman who has dreams about the future, and a wide array of freed black people, enslaved people, and whites whose lives come together in the odyssey that surrounds the last weeks of this woman's life. Harriet Tubman served as an inspiration for the book, and it provides a fictional depiction of a code of communication that enslaved people used to help runaways attain freedom. The book, based on real-life events that occurred on Maryland's Eastern Shore, also featured the notorious criminal Patty Cannon as a villain.
In August 2013, The Good Lord Bird, a comedy novel, was released by Riverhead Books. The work details the life of notorious abolitionist John Brown. For this book, McBride won the 2013 National Book Award for fiction.
On September 22, 2016, President Barack Obama awarded McBride the 2015 National Humanities Medal "for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family."
Saxophonist and composer
McBride is the tenor saxophonist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of best-selling authors who are lousy musicians. "Hopefully", McBride says, "the group has retired for good." He also toured as a saxophonist with jazz legend Little Jimmy Scott and has his own band that plays an eclectic blend of music.
He has written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Pura Fé, and Gary Burton. McBride composed the theme music for the Clint Harding Network, Jonathan Demme's New Orleans documentary Right to Return, and the Off-Broadway musical Bobos, written by playwright Ed Shockley.
McBride was awarded the American Music Theater Festival's Stephen Sondheim Award in 1993, the American Arts and Letters Richard Rodgers Award in 1996, and the inaugural ASCAP Richard Rodgers Horizons Award in 1996.
- The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (1995)
- Miracle at St. Anna (2002)
- Song Yet Sung (2008)
- The Good Lord Bird (2013)
- Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul (2016)
- Five-Carat Soul (2017)
- Good Reads
- Sherwin, Elisabeth (February 9, 1997). "One man's unique story about poverty, race, family". Retrieved March 7, 2013.
- Hevesi, Dennis (January 2010). "Ruth McBride Jordan, Subject of Son's Book 'Color of Water,' Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
- "Home > Programs and Services > One Book, One Philadelphia > The Color of Water".
- "Prophetic Dreams". New York Times. February 3, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
- "James McBride, Author and Musician".
- "Hard Listening".
- "2013 National Book Award Winner, fiction". National Book Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
- "At White House, A Golden Moment For America's Great Artists And Patrons". NPR. September 22, 2016. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
- Brandeis.edu Archived September 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Carlozo, Louis (February 26, 2008). "My other passion / JAMES McBRIDE". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
- Julie Bosman, "Traveling With John Brown Along the Road to Literary Celebrity", The New York Times, November 24, 2013.