Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler

Paperback | January 1, 1997

byKathryn Talalay

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George Schuyler, a renowned and controversial black journalist of the Harlem Renaissance, and Josephine Cogdell, a blond, blue-eyed Texas heiress and granddaughter of slave owners, believed that intermarriage would "invigorate" the races, thereby producing extraordinary offspring. Theirdaughter, Philippa Duke Schuyler, became the embodiment of this theory, and they hoped she would prove that interracial children represented the final solution to America's race problems. Able to read and write at the age of two and a half, a pianist at four, and a composer by five, Philippa was often compared to Mozart. During the 1930s and 40s she graced the pages of Time and Look magazines, the New York Herald Tribune, and The New Yorker. Philippa grew up under the adoring andinquisitive eyes of an entire nation and soon became the role model and inspiration for a generation of African-American children. But as an adult she mysteriously dropped out of sight, leaving America to wonder what had happened to the "little Harlem genius." Suffering the double sting of racismand gender bias, Philippa had been rejected by the elite classical music milieu in the United States and forced to find an audience abroad, where she flourished as a world-class performer and composer. She traveled throughout South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia performing for kings, queens, andpresidents. By then Philippa had added a second career as an author and foreign correspondent reporting on events around the globe--from Albert Schweitzer's leper colony in Lamberene to the turbulent Asian theater of the 1960s. She would give a command performance for Queen Elisabeth of Belgium oneday, and hide from the Viet Cong among the ancient graves of the Annam kings another. But behind the scrim of adventure, glamour, and intrigue was an American outcast, a woman constantly searching for home and self. "I am a beauty--but I'm half colored...so I'm always destined to be an outsider," she wrote in her diary. Philippa tried to define herself through love affairs, butfound only disappointment and scandal. In a last attempt to reclaim an identity, she began to "pass" as Caucasian. Adopting an Iberian-American heritage, she reinvented herself as Felipa Monterro, an ultra-right conservative who wrote and lectured for the John Birch Society. Her experiment failed,as had her parents' dream of smashing America's racial barriers. But at the age of thirty five, Philippa finally began to embark on a racial catharsis: She was just beginning to find herself when on May 9, 1967, while on an unauthorized mission of mercy, her life was cut short in a helicopter crashover the waters of war-torn Vietnam. The first authorized biography of Philippa Schuyler, Composition in Black and White draws on previously unpublished letters and diaries to reveal an extraordinary and complex personality. Extensive research and personal interviews from around the world make this book not only the definitivechronicle of Schuyler's restless and haunting life, but also a vivid history of the tumultuous times she lived through, from the Great Depression, through the Civil Rights movement, to the Vietnam war. Talalay has created a highly perceptive and provocative portrait of a fascinating woman.

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From Our Editors

SGeorge Schuyler, a renowned black journalist of the Harlem Renaissance, and Texas heiress Josephine Cogdell believed that intermarriage would "invigorate" the races, thereby producing extraordinary offspring. Their daughter, Philippa Duke Schuyler became the embodiment of this theory as a child, but suffered the double sting of racial...

From the Publisher

George Schuyler, a renowned and controversial black journalist of the Harlem Renaissance, and Josephine Cogdell, a blond, blue-eyed Texas heiress and granddaughter of slave owners, believed that intermarriage would "invigorate" the races, thereby producing extraordinary offspring. Theirdaughter, Philippa Duke Schuyler, became the embod...

Kathryn Talalay, the recipient of a 1988-1989 Rockefeller Foundation Grant, was on the faculty of Indiana University for fourteen years. The author of numerous articles and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, she is currently a project editor at W.W. Norton and Company in New York City.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:360 pages, 6.61 × 9.13 × 0.91 inPublished:January 1, 1997Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195113934

ISBN - 13:9780195113938

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From Our Editors

SGeorge Schuyler, a renowned black journalist of the Harlem Renaissance, and Texas heiress Josephine Cogdell believed that intermarriage would "invigorate" the races, thereby producing extraordinary offspring. Their daughter, Philippa Duke Schuyler became the embodiment of this theory as a child, but suffered the double sting of racial and gender bias as a young adult. "Composition in Black and White" is the first authorized biography of the "little Harlem genius". 47 halftones

Editorial Reviews

"No one brings the tragedy of [Philippa Schuyler's] struggle, with its soaring successes and crushing disappointments, to life more eloquently than Kathryn Talalay in her well-researched and perceptive biography of this troubled genius.... Through exhaustive research in the Schuyler familypapers, scrapbooks, and diaries, and interviews with scores of people who knew Philippa and her parents, author Talalay weaves a fascinating and cautionary tale of a child forced into the mold of a 'prodigy puppet' in her early years.... A rich and noteworthy biography...as compelling as the bestfiction."--The Dallas Morning News