James McBride (writer)

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James McBride
James McBride at the 2013 Texas Book Festival.
James McBride at the 2013 Texas Book Festival.
Born (1957-09-11) September 11, 1957 (age 63)
New York City, US
OccupationJournalist; musician
Alma materOberlin College
GenreMemoir; screenplay
Notable worksThe Color of Water The Good Lord Bird. (National Book Award, 2013)
Relatives11 siblings

James McBride (born September 11, 1957)[1] is an American writer and musician. He is the recipient of the 2013 National Book Award for fiction for his novel The Good Lord Bird.

Early life[edit]

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.

McBride states:

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."[2]

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.[3]

McBride graduated from Oberlin College in 1979.


Books and screenplays[edit]

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.[4]

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.[5]

In 2012, McBride co-wrote and co-produced Red Hook Summer (2012) with Spike Lee.[6]

In July 2013, McBride co-authored Hard Listening (2013) with the rest of the Rock Bottom Remainders (published by Coliloquy).[7]

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.[8]

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."[9]

Saxophonist and composer[edit]

McBride is the tenor saxophonist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of best-selling authors who are also 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

Personal life[edit]

McBride is currently a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University. He has three children and lives between New York City and Lambertville, New Jersey.[13]




  1. ^ Good Reads
  2. ^ Sherwin, Elisabeth (February 9, 1997). "One man's unique story about poverty, race, family". Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "One Book, One Philadelphia: The Color of Water Reading Guide". Free Library of Philadelphia. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  5. ^ Bell, Madison Smartt (February 3, 2008). "Prophetic Dreams". New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  6. ^ "James McBride". African American Literature Book Club. aalbc.com. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  7. ^ "Hard Listening".
  8. ^ "2013 National Book Award Winner, fiction". National Book Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  9. ^ Dwyer, Colin (September 22, 2016). "At White House, A Golden Moment For America's Great Artists And Patrons". NPR. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  10. ^ Brandeis.edu Archived September 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Carlozo, Louis (February 26, 2008). "My other passion / JAMES McBRIDE". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  12. ^ "James McBride (bio)". Rock Bottom Remainders. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Julie Bosman, "Traveling With John Brown Along the Road to Literary Celebrity", The New York Times, November 24, 2013.

External links[edit]