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James  McBride

James McBride

New York Times Best-Selling Author & Musician


James McBride is an author, musician and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, The Color of Water, rested on the New York Times bestseller list for two years and explored McBride’s search for identity as the son of a white, Jewish woman and a black man. It is considered an American classic and is read in schools and universities across the United States. His debut novel, Miracle at St. Anna was translated into a major motion picture, directed by American film icon Spike Lee. It was released by Disney/Touchstone in September 2008. James wrote the script for Miracle at St. Anna and co-wrote Spike Lee's 2012 Red Hook Summer. His novel, Song Yet Sung, was released in paperback in January 2009. His novel The Good Lord Bird, about American revolutionary John Brown, is the winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction and has been adapted by Ethan Hawke and Jason Blum into a Showtime series bearing the same name.  Read More >

McBride’s latest novel Deacon King Kong tells the story of a 1969 shooting in Brooklyn and the strange intersections of the lives of the characters involved in the shooting. Early reviews rave “deeply felt, beautifully written, and profoundly humane” (New York Times Book Review) and “this generous, achingly funny novel will delight and move readers” (Publishers Weekly starred review).

James is also a former staff writer for The Boston Globe, People Magazine and The Washington Post. His work has appeared in Essence, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. His April, 2007 National Geographic story entitled “Hip Hop Planet” is considered a respected treatise on African American music and culture.

James toured as a saxophonist sideman with jazz legend Jimmy Scott, among others. He has also written songs (music and lyrics) for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Purafe, Gary Burton, and even for the PBS television character 'Barney.' He did not write the 'I Love You' song for Barney but wishes he did. He received the Stephen Sondheim Award and the Richard Rodgers Foundation Horizon Award for his musical 'Bo-Bos' co-written with playwright Ed Shockley. His 2003 “Riffin’ and Pontificatin’” Musical Tour was captured in a nationally televised Comcast documentary. He has been featured on national radio and television in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He often does his readings accompanied by a band.

James is a native New Yorker and a graduate of New York City public schools. He studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22. He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

In the fall of 2016, President Barack Obama awarded McBride the 2015 National Humanities Medal "for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family."  Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Good Lord Bird

The Story of James McBride

James McBride Presentation

That’s the America I Live in

This is a Nation of Immigrants

The Truth is in the Music

Speech Topics

The Good Lord Bird: Faith & American Slavery

In a brand-new program, James McBride shares the powerful story of John Brown, a white American abolitionist who in 1859—along with 19 others—attacked the largest arsenal of weapons in America, ultimately prompting the Civil War by terrorizing the South and galvanizing the abolitionists in the North. Read More >

In this presentation, which is based around his National Book Award winning novel, The Good Lord Bird, McBride shares the story of John Brown, using gospel and spiritual music of the time to frame his life and how it is presented in the book. Audiences will feel inspired and uplifted by the amazing music, the real-life story of a true American hero, and the powerful words of one of our greatest public speakers. Read Less ^

The Color of Water: A Meditation on Identity

In this touching keynote speech, diversity speaker James McBride discusses the importance of learning to forgive one’s past mistakes in order to press forward towards success, and the importance of failure as a successful tool for learning. McBride stresses that it is never too late to change. He uses examples from his own life and the lives of those he’s come across in his wide experience to encourage young people to embrace their history and identity, and appreciate the differences of those around them. Read More >

Who are you? A human? A student? An American citizen? You can be all of those things and more, but what part of those things is the most important? McBride uses his experience of having grown up in an ethnically mixed environment to teach audiences to be kind, be a learner, and be a self starter. Read Less ^

Improvisation, Teamwork & Following Your Instincts: Finding Success through the Principles of Jazz

In this innovative program, best-selling author and professional musician James McBride shares how the basic principles of jazz—including being willing to improvise, working as a team, being creative, following your instincts, and thinking outside of the box—can be applied to the world of business for lasting results. He peppers his talk with funny and intriguing anecdotes, while illustrating his points with toe-tapping numbers performed along with a full band of career jazz artists.

The Liberal Arts Life: From Jazz to Journalism to Novel to Script

A “musical” lecture focusing on the importance of the liberal arts as learning tools for life.

Inspire to Live: A Lecture/Performance on Learning to Fail