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.
“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
“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
“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
“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