Book of the Week: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love – Kathleen Collins

Publishing often seems to me like the movie business—with “big” and “buzz” being watchwords of future success. And yet when I think of the books and movies that have stayed with me, have changed my life, they tilt towards “little” stories driven less by plot than by characters confronting circumstance. More John Sayles and Rebecca Miller than George Lucas and James Cameron.

I use the film reference here because the author of this collection, dead since 1988, was a playwright, activist, filmmaker, director, and educator as well as a writer. She was the first African-American woman to produce a feature length film. That film, released posthumously for the first time in 2015, was called “a nearly lost masterwork” by The New Yorker

 One might say the same of this story collection, published by Harper’s Ecco imprint as part of their “Art of the Story” series. Zadie Smith mentioned it in the NYT’s “By the Book” column saying she was “moved, agitated and inspired” by the collection.

In the tradition of writers like Loraine Hansberry, Collins wrote of African American experience from the point of view of character. And though this collection is fiction, Vivian Gornick, notes that, “This book is one of the most eloquent statements I have read of what it was like to be black and young and alive in the 1960s.”

The review coverage for this collection points to the impact Collins is making on readers. Alexandra Alter is writing a feature on Collins for the NYT and PBS Newshour’s “Brief But Spectacular” will cover Collins’ films and writing at the time of the book’s publication.

Review coverage so far includes the NYTBR, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine, Essence, Marie Claire, Harper’s, People, New Yorker, Huffington Post, Lit Hub and The Millions.

 Published for the first time nearly 30 years after the author’s death at age 46, this gorgeous and strikingly intimate short story collection focuses on the lives and loves of black Americans in the 1960s….The title story, wrenching and darkly hilarious, follows a circle of young interracial lovers through 1963, ‘the year of race-creed-color blindness.’….Collins has a spectacular sense of dialogue. These are stories where nothing happens and everything happens, stories that are at once sweeping and very, very small. Though most of the pieces span only a few pages, they are frequently overwhelmingly rich—not just in their sharp takes on sex, race, and relationships, but in the power and music of their sentences. Collins’ prose is so precise and hypnotic that no amount of rereading it feels like enough. Astonishing and essential. A gem.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Race, gender, love, and sexuality are portrayed beautifully and humanely in this previously unpublished collection of stories from groundbreaking African-American filmmaker and civil rights activist Collins… [capturing] the racial tension of the 1960s with both frankness and tenderness….The title story follows a group of interracial couples as each member explores his/her own identity while trying to fit in with the identity of the other. In the gripping ‘Only Once,’ a woman recalls her thrill-seeking lover and his final act of recklessness….Full of candor, humor, and poise, this collection, so long undiscovered, will finally find the readers it deserves.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Stories (9780062484154) by Kathleen Collins. $15.99 trade paper original. 12/6/16 on sale.

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