James McBride Discusses His Novel Song Yet Sung at BSU
By Kira Ward
Bowie State University had the honor of welcoming best-selling American writer and musician James McBride to campus on Oct. 27 as he spoke about his new book Song Yet Sung and discussed various issues affecting the African American community.
McBride's visit was part of the One Maryland One Book author tour sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council in cooperation with BSU Department of English and Modern Languages and the Thurgood Marshall University Library.
Song Yet Sung in short explores the experiences of many involved in the slave trade within the Delmarva Peninsula. The book focuses on the main character Liz who is a runaway slave and involves a villain by the name of Patty Cannon, named after a true gang leader who stole slaves and sold them off. The book is a clear indicator of a vast amount of historical research on the author's part and allows readers to relive those occurrences through the eyes of a fictional character.
Students, professors and visitors all came to discuss the book and ask questions about his inspiration, his research, and the book's success. The audience's response ranged from some conveying their disapproval in him naming one of the characters after a real historical figure, arguing that it took away from its ingenuity. Others felt as though it was a masterpiece saying that it "motivates you to peel back the layers of slavery."
It would have been impossible to discuss this novel in depth and not discuss the well-known marks of African-American history such as the Jim Crow laws, and the Willie Lynch era, which he did. McBride shared why he chose the time period he chose, saying that Martin Luther King being used as the human backdrop for novels and other things has been beaten to ground and overly used; although he did share his opinion that Martin Luther King was more of a monumental leader of the African American community then Barack Obama in that Obama is more representative of all Americans rather than just blacks.
In an effort to tie many of the underlying topics of the novel to today's youth he discussed Hip Hop as a dying genre of music that was once representative of the urban struggle and was considered true poetry as oppose to a gimmick to sell records. McBride then led a short discussion about socioeconomic status while placing emphasis on the fact that today everything is based on money and many people are not in fact racist, but rather class prejudice. He also touched on the sensitivity surrounding use of the N-word stating that he really didn't care about the usage of the word because he was confident in its history and the fact that you are only what you answer to. He shared that at times he gets flak for not being more adamant about the usage of the word.
Although McBride comes from an ethnically diverse background his African-American pride is quite prevalent in his work as well as in his speech. With this book he has succeeded in tying historical events in with fictional characters that bring about a reading experience unparallel.
Following his platform, there was opportunity for everyone to purchase a book and have it signed by the author, which preceded a reception, sponsored by the Department of English and Modern Languages.