We Jews and Blacks: Memoir with Poemsby Willis Barnstone
Willis Barnstone's third book of memoirs begins with his childhood and ends with the death of his brother in 1987. A central theme is that of labels -- names, ethnicities, all distinctions that cause suspicion, anger, and destruction. Barnstone speaks as a Jew who has from early in his life shared parallel experiences with African Americans. He dwells on his own… See more details below
Willis Barnstone's third book of memoirs begins with his childhood and ends with the death of his brother in 1987. A central theme is that of labels -- names, ethnicities, all distinctions that cause suspicion, anger, and destruction. Barnstone speaks as a Jew who has from early in his life shared parallel experiences with African Americans. He dwells on his own experience of "passing," already present in the name Barnstone, a name changed before his birth to conceal -- or not to advertise -- that he was a Jew, which might affect admission to private schools and college, his integration into society, and his professional life. But the price of dissembling was self-deprecation, fear of rejection, and guilt. Barnstone makes the analogy to the African American experience explicit. He speaks of his black step-grandmother, of childhood playmates, of the activist Bayard Rustin and the turbulent and exhilarating integration of his Quaker boarding school, of his first publication -- a letter to The Nation -- protesting the racial and religious exclusionary practices of the Bowdoin fraternities, of being a soldier with Blacks in the segregated South, and of the eighteenth-century slave memoirist Olaudah Equiano. Finally, there is a dialogue with Yusef Komunyakaa and a small selection of Komunyakaa's Jewish Bible poems. We Jews and Blacks is also a dramatic and whimsical literary memoir. It contains forty-some of Barnstone's poems, which give a second view of an event, a crystallization of his thinking. Both sorrowful and joyful, this memoir is a fresh and significant contribution to American letters.
Indiana University Press
"[A] moving, and at times astonishing, memoir... it sparkles and informs with intelligence and good intentions." —Publishers Weekly
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Meet the Author
Willis Barnstone, distinguished poet and translator, is author of two other memoirs. He is perhaps best known for his translation of The Gnostic Bible. He lives in Oakland, California.
Yusef Komunyakaa is distinguished senior poet at New York University. He has received numerous awards, including the William Faulkner Prize (Université Rennes, France), the Ruth Lilly Prize for Poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His latest book is Gilgamesh, a verse play. He lives in New York City.
Indiana University Press
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