Manhattanville Reid Castle In the Spring

Author, Musician James McBride Supports Westchester Library System at Manhattanville College
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 15:14

James McBride (c) Dorothy Handelman for the Westchester Library SystermJames McBride (c) Dorothy Handelman for the Westchester Library SystermIn a benefit to support the Westchester Library System, best-selling author, screenwriter, and musician James McBride stopped at Manhattanville College during his cross country tour with his jazz quintet.

The author wowed the crowd with excerpts from his latest book, “The Good Lord Bird,” winner of the 2013 National Book Award for fiction, while showcasing his musical talent and unique humor, on Sunday, March 2. McBride’s performance was aided by the other members of the Good Lord Bird Gospel Band, Keith Robinson, guitar, Trevor Exter, bass, Zane Rodulfo, drums,  and Adam Faulk, piano.

Throughout the afternoon McBride would couple handpicked selections from his book with the band’s musical numbers, providing extra insight for the audience into some of the novel’s most pivotal moments. 

“The library continues to be a safe place in what seems to be a failing society,” said McBride as he addressed the crowd.   “Giving to the library is like giving to the church, heck it might be better than giving to the church!” 

According to McBride, religion was a prominent portion of his life being born to two very religious parents consisting of a Polish-Jewish mother who converted to Christianity after marrying his Reverend Black American father.

Questions of self and identity were major points in life’s narrative for  both McBride’s mother and her bi-racial children, with  religion often being the only constant, a topic McBride explores heavily in his memoir dedicated to his mother “The Color of Water,” a former New York Times best-seller

Religion and identity continue to be motifs that appear in his writing, including “The Good Lord Bird.”

The book chronicles a young man by the name of Onion, who John Brown and his regime of abolitionist believe is girl and take him captive. This mistake gives Onion a firsthand account to the historic raid on Harpers Ferry and the subsequent capture and execution of Brown, which is considered to be one of the catalysts to the Civil War.

When asked where this book stood compared to the others he has written, McBride declined to give it a ranking.

“Books are like children you know you love them all the same, but it’s true that once you finish a book you never want to see it again I will say I enjoyed this book more than the others because the book is funny and the (main) character is funny”.

Though McBride was personable and funny on stage he was his most vibrant when playing the saxophone.

“Music inspires music and writing inspires writing”, he said, “I love music more, though I could never, not be a writer. I will always feel the need to express myself on the page.”