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Essays, 1985-1990

Kenneth A. McClane

Publication Year: 2010

Walls: Essays, 1985–1990, Kenneth McClane’s first book of autobiographical essays (originally published in 1991), is closely related to his second collection, Color, published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2009. Walls is a powerful and deeply moving meditation on relationships. It begins with an essay on the death of McClane’s brother, Paul, which “changed everything. Time, my work, everything found a new calculus.” His brother’s life and death are present in some way in all the essays that follow “A Death in the Family,” as McClane tells us about giving a poetry reading in a maximum-security prison; his experience of being one of the first two African American students to attend America’s oldest private school; teaching creative writing; his sister, Adrienne; a divestment protest at Cornell; and his encounters with James Baldwin. McClane has written a new preface to this paperback edition of Walls, in which he reminds us that we are inevitably interconnected: we are each other’s witness.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. vii

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Preface to the 2010 Paperback Edition

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pp. 9-12

I am delighted that the University of Notre Dame Press has decided to republish my first collection of essays, Walls. The book was a true labor of love-it was my way of dealing with a brother dead; and, just as importantly, it was my small attempt at celebrating my mother and father, who never thought their child would predecease them. Of course, the book is about much more: there is an ...

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pp. 13-16

The essays that make up this collection are largely personal ones , which means that I have the freedom and the responsibility to be both self-absorbed and self-corrective. Clearly, the truths I narrate are largely my own: no one can maintain that this or that did not happen unless they were there . And yet, by ...

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A Death in the Family

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pp. 17-28

I recall how difficult it was for me to realize that my brother loved me. He was always in the streets , doing this and that, proverbially in trouble, in a place , Harlem, where trouble indeed was great. At times we would even come to blows , when, for example , drunk as he could b e , he wished to borrow my car ...

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Walls: A Journey to Auburn

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pp. 29-44

At first glance, Auburn Correctional Facility calls to mind a feudal castle or a stone and brick edifice worthy of Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson. One readily envisions prisoners dragging their balls and chains, the late-night prison break, or the lights slowly flickering, presaging the imminent ...

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The School

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pp. 45-64

Improve the flying moments, the motto on the ancient dead clock read , and every Collegiate boy, whether he was rushing to homeroom, algebra, or th e bathroom, would pass this aphorism ten times a day and a million times a year. It is difficult to tell what exactly its impact was on the three hundred or so boys ; it certainly did not have the force of New York City, ...

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Unity Day

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pp. 65-76

I am fond of telling my creative writing students that in a time o f true crisis one often finds oneself focused on something oddly trivial , something that becomes , God knows why, as important as the Rosetta Stone in one ' s present moment of distress. This " new obsession" can be as banal as the color of one ' s toothbrush o r the realization, albeit for the first time , that ...

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Baxter's Program: Creative Writing at Cornell

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pp. 77-82

The first meeting of a creative writing seminar is always particularly exciting. There are the new students , their faces alternately open and grave, and a knife-edged, heady wind of expectancy. For this is a writing class, the world is to be revised and revisited; and everyone senses , from the initiate to ...

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Intimate Injustice

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pp. 83-96

A few days ago I was offered a whopping one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for our summer home on the island of Martha' s Vineyard. Even though the house was not mine to sell-it belongs to my parents-the figure seemed out of all proportion to reality . Undeniably , the house is a grand one. With ten rooms , ...

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Keep On Keeping On

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pp. 97-110

I met the great writer James Baldwin on three very singular occasions : once when he gave a lecture and signed my copy of Just Above My Head; a second time when he and I had a drink together in Ithaca, New York; and a third time, when he was beyond all this , at his funeral at the Cathedral of st. John the ...

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Between Yes and No

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pp. 111-120

Recently I was a willful spectator at a " shanty raising" by a large contingent of Cornell faculty members-some ninety or so spirited souls. I say willful because I willed myself to be inactive, but I am getting ahead of myself. The haphazard structure-three-quarters good intentions and much architectural ...


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pp. 121

E-ISBN-13: 9780268086824
E-ISBN-10: 0268086826
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268035204
Print-ISBN-10: 0268035202

Page Count: 128
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2010