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Black Is the Body

Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine
Narrated by: Emily Bernard
Length: 5 hrs and 55 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (29 ratings)

Regular price: $21.00

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Publisher's Summary

An extraordinary, exquisitely written memoir (of sorts) that looks at race - in a fearless, penetrating, honest, true way - in 12 telltale, connected, deeply personal essays that explore, up-close, the complexities and paradoxes, the haunting memories and ambushing realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD from Yale, of marrying a white man from the North, of adopting two babies from Ethiopia, of teaching at a white college and living in America's New England today. From the acclaimed editor of Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten ("A major contribution," Henry Louis Gates; "Magnificent," Washington Post).

"I am black - and brown, too," writes Emily Bernard. "Brown is the body I was born into. Black is the body of the stories I tell."

And the storytelling, and the mystery of Bernard's storytelling, of getting to the truth, begins with a stabbing in a New England college town. Bernard writes how, when she was a graduate student at Yale, she walked into a coffee shop and, along with six other people, was randomly attacked by a stranger with a knife ("I remember making the decision not to let the oddness of this stranger bother me"). "I was not stabbed because I was black," she writes (the attacker was white), "but I have always viewed the violence I survived as a metaphor for the violent encounter that has generally characterized American race relations. There was no connection between us, yet we were suddenly and irreparably bound by a knife, an attachment that cost us both: him, his freedom; me, my wholeness."

Bernard explores how that bizarre act of violence set her free and unleashed the storyteller in her ("The equation of writing and regeneration is fundamental to black American experience"). 

She writes in Black Is the Body how each of the essays goes beyond a narrative of black innocence and white guilt, how each is anchored in a mystery, and how each sets out to discover a new way of telling the truth as the author has lived it. "Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably.... Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book."

And what most interests Bernard is looking at "blackness at its borders, where it meets whiteness in fear and hope, in anguish and love".

©2019 Emily Bernard (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Conceived while the author was hospitalized after being stabbed by a white man, these 13 formidable, destined-to-be-studied essays mark the emergence of an extraordinary voice on race in America." (Oprah Magazine)

"Bernard's honesty and vulnerability reveal a strong voice with no sugarcoating, sharing her struggle, ambivalence, hopes, and fears as an individual within a web of relationships, black and white. Highly recommended." (Library Journal, starred review)

"Lucid... deeply felt, unflinchingly honest, and openly questioning ... [Bernard] illuminates a legacy of storytelling... and elaborates on the relationship between blacks and whites. A rare book of healing." (Kirkus, starred review)

"Of the 12 essays here, there's not one that even comes close to being forgettable. Bernard's language is fresh, poetically compact, and often witty.... Bernard proves herself to be a revelatory storyteller of race in America who can hold her own with some of those great writers she teaches." (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Black is the body is beautifuly written and read.

it is great to be able to listen to Author Emily Bernard recount her life stories. it ads nuances you otherwise might miss.
Black is the body is beautifuly written and read.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • JJdad
  • mid-Atlantic, USA
  • 03-23-19

Each story a facet, personal but illuminating

Each story a facet, personal but illuminating, provoking me to reconsider otherwise unremarkable events in my own life

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    5 out of 5 stars
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LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THIS BOOK!

I love this book, having seven children I often had to will myself to stop listening. The grace and honesty in which Mrs. Bernard wrote and narrated her story made me feel as if I was there. Now I must purchase the physical book to put amongst my library of other authors I have come to love, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Mark Mathabane, Richard Wright, etc...

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  • uvatech
  • Charlottesville, VA, United States
  • 03-12-19

Black is the Body is a must read.

Fantastically spun conversation around race and relationships in America across decades, told with care and warmth that will inspire conversation.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • KW
  • Buffalo
  • 03-09-19

Unique, compelling, exquisite

A beautiful, original, unforgettable set of personal stories. Emily Bernard has a deep connection to literary history, but she forges a fresh, entirely new narrative of race, marriage, motherhood, family, friendship, and teaching. She reads aloud as beautifully as she writes. A rare gem of a book.

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Not as good as I had hoped or as it was hyped up

Not as good as I had hoped or as it was hyped up to be.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Wisdom and knowledge never meet here


The author has knowledge but isn’t very wise.
1st story several moments of disgust but couldn’t continue after a line about not having the usual thrill after seeing a “brown” man and his white paramour.
Second story lost my lunch at how cavalier she was with the N word and basically forcing a white person to say it. Read by the author with what sounded like a big smile.
Couldn’t continue so I’ll never know if she experienced any real racism or if her middle class existence kept her from as out of touch as she sounds.
I wouldn’t be surprised if The help is one of her favorite books.
Sad she is/was in a place where she teaches about race.
I’ve reads so many books in my 20something years on earth and this was one of the worst.
No really “woke” BLACK person will enjoy this.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful