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McBride was a staff writer for The Washington Post, People magazine, and The Boston Globe. James has written scores for several musicals and songs for Anita baker, Grover Washington Jr., and even the PBS television character "Barney."
So, what does a best selling author and jazz musician do for an encore? He writes a book about miracles.
DAVID KITHCART: Your first book, The Color of Water, was non-fiction. What made you get into the realm of a fictional account of real events?
JAMES McBRIDE: Fiction makes your dreams come true, and, as a writer, fiction allows you to delve into the area of miracles.
DAVID KITHCART (reporting): James Mcbrides latest book, Miracle at St. Anna, tells the story of the African-American soldiers in the segregated, all black 92nd Infantry while stationed in World War II Italy. They carried the name "buffalo soldiers" from the Old West when blacks served in the United States Cavalry.
DAVID KITHCART: Tell me how the whole idea for this book came about.
JAMES McBRIDE: When I was about 10 years old, my Uncle Henry used to sit in my fathers parlor and tell yarns about the war in Italy and how the Italians loved the Negro. When I got older, I became interested in what he was talking about. This was long after hed passed away.
I went to the library and got a couple of books out and read about this invisible division, basically, of black soldiers who served under white commanders in Italy during World War II. I found a few and I started to interview them. I read a few more books, and I decided that there was a book there.
I studied Italian first, my wife and I, and then we moved to Italy and I studied the war from the perspective of the Italians, which was fascinating. Italy was in a civil war. People remember it was the Partisans vs. the Fascists and so forth, and the memories are still there.
I had to really wait before the book came. It was one of those things where every time I sat down to write, I was waiting for God to come into the room. He took His time this time, took a couple years actually. (laughs) Writing a novel is like youre really walking blind. Theres a lot of faith involved.
Eventually, the story came. It came when I went to visit a church in Italy in a little town called St. Anna di Stazzema. It was a church where the Germans had killed several hundred Italian civilians. When I got there, I kind of found the book. I found the essence of the book in the sense that the book is about a miracle that takes place. Thats when God stepped into the room, if you will, and said, 'Here is your story. Now, you decide how to tell it. But this is what youre really telling about.'
The book is basically about a little Italian boy who meets a giant Negro sharecropper from the South and they become friends. This friendship is really what the book is about. Its not really about the war so much.
DAVID KITHCART: How do you go about delving into the divine and then bringing that into the work that you do?
JAMES McBRIDE: As the book reaches its apex, I needed a way to extract hope from the desperate circumstances that existed. The only answer to that was God, really. I just needed to figure out a way for Him to work the miracle. I knew that I wanted one of the characters, at the very end of his life, the last moment, to accept God. And in doing so, he creates an even greater miracle, and thats why I call the book Miracle at St. Anna.
DAVID KITHCART: Its not for the faint of heart.
JAMES McBRIDE: No, there are some unpleasant things, and some of the language is strong. But in the real world, this is what happens. Those who have served in the Army understand it. There are some extraordinarily unpleasant things that happen. In terms of the four characters, I think its important to show people that it doesnt matter what color you are, what gender you are, if you find yourself in a position where the moral underpinnings are removed, then you and I, we all call on the same thing if we believe in the same set of principles, and that is we ask God to help us through.
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