Collins, Kathleen. “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories”, (Art of the Story), Ecco, 2016.
I must admit that I had never heard of Kathleen Collins until I read this book but I am now certainly glad that I am familiar with her writing. Kathleen Collins was a groundbreaking African-American playwright, filmmaker, and educator who has been largely forgotten since her early death in 1988 at age 46. She was the first black woman to produce a feature-length film, and when that never-before-released movie, “Losing Ground”, finally premiered at Lincoln Center few years ago, it played to sold-out audiences for three weeks. Collins also wrote short stories, although her fiction was never published in her lifetime, or in the years since until this book.
In these sixteen stories, Collins writes with brutal honesty about the experiences of women and African Americans from the perspective of the seventies and eighties. She captures everyday lives and does so with grace and humor. She also intimately writes about race, gender, family and sexuality. She presents us with a look at race in the 1960s; something that only those of us who lived through that period can sense what is was like to be Black and female in this country.
She writes of the mingling of politics and desire and the quest for a place that is exotic and different while looking at the historical context in which the stories take place. Collins has preserved the past and what it was to black, young and in love amid the Civil Rights movement. She covers the themes of self-determination, group affinity and individualism, lovers and the power plays between them in ways we have not seen before.
We read of “parents and children, blacks and whites, blacks and blacks, lovers, intellectuals, artists, dreamers, strivers, braggarts and idealists” and they all wan the same thing— justification for their lives and to be able to share that with others. This is a look at interracial America that we have never had before in that is a look at both white and black striving for the same goals
The characters here are conscious of their race but it is not what determines how they travel through life and/or make choices. With Collins the profound becomes personal and intimate and this is something I wish we would see from more writers. The stories make the black experience part of the characters’ lives and I emphasize the word “part”— black is only a part of who they are. I am not much of a short story reader mainly because I prefer to be involved with a book over a longer period of time but these stories not only allowed me to get to know the characters but to see them as friends and contemporaries. I grew up in the South in the 60s and dared defy my family by attending a southern integrated university where I met “some of the characters I read about here” but had forgotten them. This book puts them back into my life and I am so grateful for that.