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Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson

Hosted By Lan Samantha Chang

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During the summer months of 1967, James Alan McPherson, studying for a law degree at Harvard and working as a janitor, started to write short stories, which would be published the next year in his first collection, Hue and Cry. "What comes through with each page is an empathetic understanding coupled with a writer’s knowledge that when dealing with human beings there are no right or wrong answers," Edward P. Jones wrote in the preface to the fiftieth-anniversary edition of the book. 

Lan Samantha Chang

is the author of four books, including the novel The Family Chao, which will be published next year. She is the Elizabeth M. Stanley Professor in the Arts at the University of Iowa and the Director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

James Alan McPherson

(1943–2016) was the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and was among the first group of artists who received a MacArthur Fellowship. At the time of his death, he was a professor emeritus of fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In addition to Hue and Cry, his books include A Region Not Home, Crabcakes, and Elbow Room.

Daily Reading

Day 1

February 15, 2021 | A Matter of Vocabulary

Instead of going to church, young Thomas Brown visits the Saturday-night drunks “waiting in misery for the bars to open on Monday morning. His own father had been that way and Thomas knew that the waiting was very hard.”
Here is Thomas’s knowledge, and the story’s knowledge, imbued with pain and compassion.

Day 2

February 16, 2021 | On Trains

“The waiters say…”
The echo of a vanishing train story caught by the young summer worker just prior to the folding of the Pullman Company in early 1969.

Day 3

February 17, 2021 | Gold Coast

Re: the narrator’s jokes about his janitorial job, I’m recalling Jim’s sense of humor, which scholar Cammy Brothers has described as “quietly outrageous.” “Jim’s friends will remember that his answering machine and one of his business cards said, ‘Mr. Jefferson is not at home, he’s down at the cabins making contradictions.’”

Day 4

February 18, 2021 | All the Lonely People

“I could not touch him, although I wanted to; I dared not touch him, although he needed just the slightest touch, the merest sign at that moment more than anything else in the world.”
A complex and troubled sequence revealing honesty, guilt, and fear.

Day 5

February 19, 2021 | A New Place

“But then Ellen got pissed at me too and stalked out the door, that long brown hair trailing behind her in the breeze she made.” “Some of that long brown hair of hers was stuck to her face where it was wet.”
I enjoyed Joe’s ironic references to his girlfriend Ellen’s whiteness.

Day 6-7

February 20, 2021 | Hue and Cry

“Eric wrote small poems for her in the wet, white sand and she learned to memorize them very quickly, in the moonlight, before the white foam, pushed in by the inevitable sea, came up the beach to wash them away.”
Such transitory beauty in this relationship, and such irrevocable damage.

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