James McBride retells the John Brown story



    “I was born a colored man and don’t you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years.” These are the words of “Onion” Shackleford, JAMES MCBRIDE’s latest protagonist, looking back on his years running with the ardent and often violent abolitionist John Brown and his ragged ‘freed’ slaves in the Kansas Territory in the late 1850s. Brown’s failed 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) is imprinted in history books, with no former slaves as survivors. But McBride uses the kidnapped Shackelford, disguised as a girl, as a fictitious lens to look back at our country’s ugly and rich history. McBride returned to Radio Times to discuss his recent novel, “The Good Lord Bird” in September. Last week he won the prestigious 2013 National Book Award for fiction.

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