We Jews and Blacks: Memoir with Poems

Overview

A central theme of this memoir by poet and translator Willis Barnstone is that of labels—names, ethnicities, all distinctions that cause suspicion, anger, and destruction. A
fresh and significant contribution to American letters, We Jews and Blacks wrestles with problems of identity, difference, and the human condition. It is a dramatic, whimsical, and literary work that also contains a number of Barnstone’s poems, which offer a second view of an event, a crystallization of his ...

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A central theme of this memoir by poet and translator Willis Barnstone is that of labels—names, ethnicities, all distinctions that cause suspicion, anger, and destruction. A fresh ... and significant contribution to American letters, We Jews and Blacks wrestles with problems of identity, difference, and the human condition. It is a dramatic, whimsical, and literary work that also contains a number of Barnstone’s poems, which offer a second view of an event, a crystallization of his thinking, both sorrowful and joyful. The book includes a dialogue with Yusef Komunyakaa and a small selection of his poems. Read more Show Less

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We Jews and Blacks: Memoir with Poems

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Overview

A central theme of this memoir by poet and translator Willis Barnstone is that of labels—names, ethnicities, all distinctions that cause suspicion, anger, and destruction. A
fresh and significant contribution to American letters, We Jews and Blacks wrestles with problems of identity, difference, and the human condition. It is a dramatic, whimsical, and literary work that also contains a number of Barnstone’s poems, which offer a second view of an event, a crystallization of his thinking, both sorrowful and joyful. The book includes a dialogue with Yusef
Komunyakaa and a small selection of his poems.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] moving, and at times astonishing, memoir... it sparkles and informs with intelligence and good intentions." —Publishers Weekly

"A work of profound intelligence and utter humanity; it is intensely engaging,
exquisitely playful, unabashedly erudite without a trace of pretension, and radiant with love for fellow creatures." —Andrei Codrescu

Indiana University Press

Publishers Weekly
This moving, and at times astonishing, memoir is a meditation on the thorny politics of racial and ethnic identity and how they have shaped American life and culture. Barnstone, a professor of comparative literature at Indiana University and the author of two earlier memoirs, was born in the 1920s to a Jewish family (originally Bornstein) but from an early age was taught to "pass" as "white"-i.e., Christian and acceptable to mainstream U.S. culture. The assimilationist messages from his mother were so strong he even slept with his nose braced on his pillow so it would grow a "permanent upward curl." Barnstone is fascinated with the idea of "passing" and how destructive it is. At heart, his memoir is a cry against "the absurdity of those distinctions in ethnicity, religion, and nation when they seem to justify the destruction of the other." And while the memoir's subtext is political, Barnstone melds it neatly with his personal history. From how it felt to be an assimilated American Jew during the Holocaust to contemplating the Nazi extermination of Greek Jews when he lives and teaches in Crete in the 1950s to discussing the similarities of anti-Semitism and racism in his experiences in the U.S. army, Barnstone weaves together life stories with a broad range of history, political analysis and literary criticism. Often his views of geopolitics sound naive ("The gang battles of West Side Story are global"), and he tends at times to the cliche. This is a curious book-half literary autobiography, half political treatise-but it sparkles and informs with intelligence and good intentions. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253219213
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2007
  • Edition description: Annotated
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 0.74 (d)

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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Table of Contents

Contents
Acknowledgments
Verse
1 A Chat with the Reader
The Hell Face of Sacred
Distinctions
The Plot
Verse 2 Jews and Blacks of Early
Childhood
Swans over Manhattan
Anatole
Broyard (1920-90), the Inventor
What Was a
Jew?
Dad Grew Up in the
Streets
Languages of the Jews
Spanish
Jews
Verse 3 Jews and Blacks of Early Adolescence
"At the
Red Sea," by Yusef Komunyakaa
Assimilation and Passing under the
Shadow of War and Holocaust
Yehuda Maccabee and Hellenization of the
Jews
Gnosticism and Other Heresies
A
Summer Camp in Maine with the Scent of Palestine
Sammy Propp of the
Black Shoes
Black People
Leah
Scott
My Unseen Black
Grand-Stepmother
Othello
Reading the Bible in Hebrew
Bar
Mitzvah
"Othello's Rose," by Yosef Komunyakaa
Verse 4 Early
Jewish Corruption and Bayard Rustin, the Black Nightingale
Early
Corruption
Yeshua ben Yosef Passing as Jesus
Christ
So Long, Sammy
Off to the
Quakers
Bayard Rustin, the Black Nightingale Singing His People into the Heart of the Makers of the Underground Railroad
More Deadly
Application Blanks
Verse 5 Jews and Blacks in College, and Freedom in
Europe
Bowdoin College: The Jewish and Black Ghetto in Old Longfellow
Hall
A Letter to The Nation
Coming Out of My Own Ghetto of Silences
Off to Europe, Where Old-Fashioned
Bigotry Is Huge, yet Now Who Cares? Not Me
Changing Money on the Rue des Rosiers and Getting Married by the Grand Rabbi of Paris
Verse 6 Having Fun at Gunpoint in Crete
Working in Greece for the
King
White Islands and Northern Monasteries on Huge
Stalagmites
Thessaloniki, a City of
Peoples
Greeks and Jews and Blacks and
Russians
Jews, Greeks, and Romans in
Alexandria
Cavafy and His Poem "Of the Jews (A.D.
50)"
Romaniot Jews in Byzantium
The
Sephardim in Muslim Spain
Jews and Greeks in
Thessaloniki
Facts on the
Slaughter
Thessaloniki and Absence

Days and Nights with Odysseus on the Way to Holy Athos
The Madness of a Jew Trying to Marry in a Greek Orthodox Church in Crete
Verse 7 A Black and White
Illumination
Friendship in Tangier with a French Baroness Who Told Me
I Had Killed Her Lord
Verse 8 "Sound Out Your Race Loud and
Clear"
A Jewman in the U.S. Army
A
Touch of Freedom
Fort Dix: "I'm Black and My Balls Are Made of Brass"

"Sound Out Your Race, Loud and Clear! Caucasian or Negra!" Yelled the White Sergeant in Segregated Georgia
Holy Communion of Bagels and
Lox for Jewish Personnel
Black Barbers Brought on Base to Cut Black
Men's Hair
Captain Hammond, Baritone, and the Children of the
Périgord
Verse 9 Mumbling about Race and Religion in China, Nigeria, Tuscaloosa, and
Buenos Aires
Ma Ke, a Chinese Jew with Whom I Shared Suppers in
Beijing
Olaudah Equiano Bouncing around the Globe as a Slave Sailor under a Quaker Captain Until He Settles Down in London as a Distinguished Writer and
Abolitionist
"Some of us grow ashamed," by Yusef
Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa, the Black Nightingale Singing on Paper with the Richness of a Sweet Potato (YK & WB)
A Diversion Down to
Argentina
Verse 10 Saying a Hebrew Prayer at My Brother's Christian
Funeral
Saying a Hebrew Prayer at My Brother's Christian
Funeral
My Brother Needed to Pass Like the Spanish Saints of Jewish
Origin. Here Are Ancestors Whom My Brother, Not by Inquisition but by a Deeper Knife of Fire,
Emulated
My Father, Who Never Tried to Pass, Succumbed to Denial of
His Being and Passed from Life
Death Has a Way
Appendixes

Indiana University Press

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