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Reading in the Region: One Book, One Campus 2008
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Join us in readingThe Color of Water

The Color of Water


In The Color of Water:  A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride blends two stories:  Ruth McBride Jordan recounts aspects of her life in her own words in one half of the work, while the other half focuses on McBride’s experiences as the child of an African-American minister and a mother who would not admit she was white. As McBride states, “Here is her life as she told it to me, and betwixt and between the pages of her life you will find mine as well” (xix).  From Ruth’s birth in Poland (1921) to her graduation from Temple University (1986) where she received a degree in Social Work Administration, The Color of Water chronicles the incredible personality and will of a woman who raised twelve children stressing the power of education and religion.  As the reader encounters Ruth’s story and that of McBride himself, the narrative evokes questions of identity, race, family, and religion.  In telling his mother’s story, McBride finds himself, and the reader will discover aspects of her own humanity in experiencing McBride’s prose.

While we had a book giveaway in May, The Color of Water will now be available in the bookstore and in the library in early August.
Two discussion sessions open to everyone in the IU Northwest community will be held in the Library Conference Center 105 ABC on two dates:

Monday, October 13, 2008 from 1:00pm-3:00pm  
Tuesday, October 14, 2008  from 10:00am-12:00pm.  

Thank you to the members of the selection committee:
TJ Stoops, Miriam Williams, Tim Sutherland, Nikki Kaltenbach, Pat Buckler,
Cynthia O'Dell, Christopher Cotton, Charlie Hobson, Ana Osan, Robin Hass Birky

Stay tuned for additional announcements about programming related to this initiative.  

Have a great read!

Please direct questions to or 980-6946.

Sponsored by
the Office of Academic Affairs
the IU Northwest Library
The American Democracy Project.

Below are some summaries and reviews of The Color of Water as well as some related links:

Editorial Reviews:
Order this book ... and please don't be put off by its pallid subtitle, A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, which doesn't begin to do justice to the utterly unique and moving story contained within. The Color of Water tells the remarkable story of Ruth McBride Jordan, the two good men she married, and the 12 good children she raised. Jordan, born Rachel Shilsky, a Polish Jew, immigrated to America soon after birth; as an adult she moved to New York City, leaving her family and faith behind in Virginia. Jordan met and married a black man, making her isolation even more profound. The book is a success story, a testament to one woman's true heart, solid values, and indomitable will. Ruth Jordan battled not only racism but also poverty to raise her children and, despite being sorely tested, never wavered. In telling her story--along with her son's--The Color of Water addresses racial identity with compassion, insight, and realism. It is, in a word, inspiring, and you will finish it with unalloyed admiration for a flawed but remarkable individual. And, perhaps, a little more faith in us all.

From Library Journal
Like Gregory Williams's Life on the Color Line (LJ 2/1/95), these two memoirs describe growing up interracial from the perspective of the sons of African American fathers and white mothers. McBride, an accomplished journalist and musician, has viewed the yawning chasm of racial division from both sides and, despite carving out a successful life, has been scarred. Unlike Williams and Minerbrook, though, he focuses on a single, singular parent, a rabbi's daughter who later helped her husband establish an all-black Baptist church in her home and saw 12 children through college. His mother's own story, juxtaposed with McBride's, helps make this book a standout. Recommended for all collections. Minerbrook's father came from Chicago's African American high society, his mother from rural Missouri. He paints a detailed portrait of their family life, of relationships complicated by the fact that "human emotions, when mixed with racial issues, are prone to shatter like glass." Nearing middle age, he seeks out the white side of his family, who have rejected his mother and her offspring, and achieves a well-deserved catharsis. Still, his accounts of the almost unrelenting prejudice of white against black, black against white, light-skinned black against dark-skinned black, and so on are deeply disturbing. One is left to borrow the words of another recent commentator and say that this cancer does indeed make me want to holler. Highly recommended.
-?Jim Burns, Ottumwa P.L., Ia.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Related Readings:

  • Shirlee Taylor Haizlip’s The Sweeter the Juice:  A Family Memoir in Black and White
  • Greogory Howard Williams’ Life on the Color Line:  The Truth Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He was Black.
  • James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing
  • Nathan McCall’s Them: A Novel
  • Danzy Senna’s Caucasia
  • Rebecca Walker’s Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self
  • Adam Mansbach’s Angry Black White Boy
  • Pearl Fuyo Gaskins’ What Are You?:  Voices of Mixed-Race Young People
  • Brian Copeland’s Not a Genuine Black Man:   My Life as an Outsider
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Beautiful Struggle
  • Angela Nissel’s Mixed:  My Life in Black and White
  • June Cross’s Secret Daughter:  A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away
  • Bliss Broyard’s One Drop:  My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets
  • Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance