Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?

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Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?
192 pages; Ecco
Before she died in 1988 at 46, Kathleen Collins was a trailblazing activist, playwright, and filmmaker; her 1982 movie, Losing Ground (finally released in 2016), was one of the first feature films directed by an African American woman. Nearly 30 years after her passing comes Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, a collection of short fiction recovered from Collins’s unpublished archives by her daughter. It’s a triumph.

Collins’s prose is fluid, touched with a lyricism untainted by affect. Her stories are brief but charged; her characters tragic, urbane, and aware, especially about their skin color. The book opens with “Exteriors,” a two-page stunner in which a narrator describes the end of a relationship using nothing but set and lighting cues: “Now dim the light.... Now, how about a nice blue gel when he tells her it’s over. Good. Now go for a little fog while she tries not to cry.” The technique, heartbreak as stagecraft, produces an uncanny intimacy. In “Documentary Style,” Collins lets us imagine the frustrated ambition and resentment that culminate in a black cameraman’s shocking act of violence. “Of Poets, Galleries, New York Passages” sparkles with such captivating conversation, we feel grateful to have a seat at the dinner table where it’s taking place.

The titular story charts the romances of two young interracial couples. Here again Collins proves herself a deft cartographer of love fallen victim to circumstance, sundered by history, family, and doubt. “The year of race-creed-color blindness,” she writes. “It’s 1963.” As the plot unfolds, that observation becomes a refrain, its chiding humor curdling into caustic irony (“It’s 1963: we’re in the year of prophetic fulfillment”) until at last, when the paramours have failed each other, we read, “It’s 1963. Whatever happened to interracial love?” With that mordant closing line, Collins assumes the oracular high ground, seeming to peer through time at our own troubled “postracial” present. What a gift now, to discover this nearly lost American treasure.
— Dotun Akintoye