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Essays on Race, Family, and History

Kenneth A. McClane

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. ix-x

I would like to thank the editors of the following publications in which these essays first appeared: Bookpress, for “A Love Note: A. R. Ammons as Teacher”; English Department Newsletter , for “Hungers: Reflections...

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pp. 1-4

I began writing essays when my brother, Paul, died of alcoholism in 1982. By then, I had published six books of poems and had found poetry to be a safe harbor for my enthusiasms. Before 1982, I didn’t like sentences; they tended to go awry...

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Shadow Boxing

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pp. 5-12

At age seventy-nine, my father has a remarkable way of remembering things. In his full-blooded narratives, he is often dutifully beating up someone who has been unfair to my mother, has threatened my sister, or has been contemptuous of someone—or something—he deems worthy of his protection. These...

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The Mitchell Movement

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pp. 13-19

All of us, I imagine, recall dreadful moments from our schooling. In my case, I attended a venerable, brutal, allboys school in New York City which was—and proudly so— the oldest private school in the United States. When I was a student...

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pp. 20-29

Some years ago I decided to leave my university teaching job in upstate New York to pursue other soon-to-be discovered interests. I was tired of academia, I feared I had become stale, and I wanted to see if I had the courage—and the imagination—...

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A King's Holiday: A Personal Reminiscence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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pp. 30-42

In his famous essay “Reflections on Gandhi,” George Orwell argues that “saints should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent,” which makes good sense to me. Rarely have I met a saint, or a would-be saint,...

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pp. 43-59

In 1977, when my mother was in her early sixties, she needed to produce her birth certificate to apply for Medicaid, a rite of passage fraught with enormous trepidation, especially for someone of my mother’s near-ecumenical disengagement: she simply..

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Hungers: Reflections on Affirmative Action

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pp. 60-67

Some months ago a good student of mine, during a luncheon to celebrate his fine stories, told me angrily that he had not been accepted to Harvard because of “affirmative action...

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pp. 68-77

Although I do have a trace of the romantic about me, which, of course, is the poet’s stock-in-trade, I try not to succumb to the obvious attractions of sheer otherworldliness— that is, though I understand the obvious allure of believing in the shamanistic or the inherent integration of all things...

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A Love Note: A. R. Ammons as Teacher

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pp. 78-84

I first met A. R. Ammons at the behest of a woman I was dating when I was a freshman at Cornell in 1969. As a black student from Harlem who missed the City, I had begun to write what I then considered to be poems. To be brutally...

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The 13th Juror

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pp. 85-90

Life rarely confirms one’s preoccupations, but last summer, after three successful evasions of jury duty, I finally had to produce myself for jury selection. It was not in New York City—where everything teems with intrigue and humanity— but in a small town in upstate New York, with a college and a well-known...

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pp. 91-110

I have put off writing this for some time, largely because it was too painful for me to write about my parents, and largely too because I was worried that my experience—which is purely that, my experience—might cause others undue consternation...

E-ISBN-13: 9780268086695
E-ISBN-10: 0268086699
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268035150
Print-ISBN-10: 0268035156

Page Count: 120
Publication Year: 2009