...a multidimensional revelation whose invisibility until now is as grievous a loss to literature as the near-disappearance of Losing Ground has been to the world of movies ... delves deep into modern history and personal experience to yield, in calm yet prismatic phrases, urgent and deeply affecting insights into her times, which echo disturbingly today ... Collins’s style is fine, graceful, and reserved, but pierced with the harsh simplicity of lurking menace. It’s not a style that grabs at life but that moves into it, that passes through it with a quietly adamant determination to keep going but without any illusions about taking action.
Collins’ impressionistic, psychologically observant collection captures moments from a past era that should remind idealistic readers today that our disillusionment is not new ... At every turn, Collins burrows deep into the minds of her characters, mostly black women, and brings to life their daily joys and frustrations as well as their persistent anxieties ... Nearly 30 years after her too-early passing, this author’s powerful debut collection manages to perfectly embody the existential torment of her country.
In all of [the stories] we hear a voice—black, urban, unmistakably rooted in lived experience—speaking not only to let us know what it felt like to be living inside that complex identity, but to make large, imaginative use of it, the way [Grace] Paley used her New York Jewishness to explore the astonishment of human existence ... What we have here, in Collins’s sixteen stories, is sensibility in service of a state of mind whose authenticity none, I think, can challenge. Written in the 1970s and 1980s, when African-American writing was ablaze with rage and righteousness, they might have seemed too nuanced to make an impression. Coming to us as they do now, when we are living once more through a period of flaring racism that has brought talented protest writing to a new level, they strike a note on the one hand oddly original, on the other painfully familiar. Either way it drags at the heart.
Comparisons to Amy Hempel and Grace Paley have been made, and are apropos. Collins can work wonders with a single line ... There is admittedly — perhaps inevitably — some variation in quality among the 16 stories. I will even share my suspicion that the author herself, had she lived, might have regarded a few of them as not quite finished. But Collins’ voice is so original, her corpus so small and this discovery of her work so long overdue that one can only applaud the editors’ decision to err on the side of inclusion ... The best reason to read this book is simply that it is fantastic: original, provocative, revelatory and bursting with life.
The best of these stories are a revelation. Ms. Collins had a gift for illuminating what the critic Albert Murray called the 'black intramural class struggle,' and two or three of her stories are so sensitive and sharp and political and sexy I suspect they will be widely anthologized. If the bulk of the 16 stories in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? are less fully realized, they point in directions she might have taken had she lived. They have a talky, crackling quality that keeps them afloat even when they veer toward the pretentious ... This foreword is titled 'In Search of Kathleen Collins,' yet Ms. Alexander writes almost entirely about herself. On the back flap, Ms. Alexander’s paragraph of biographical details is longer than the author’s. Ms. Collins deserves a proper introduction to American readers, one she does not receive here.
Despite the unfinished feel of some of these pieces, which are mostly set in the 1960s, the collection offers a stimulating glimpse at a roller-coaster era for civil rights ... Collins’s writing has much in common with Grace Paley’s wry vignettes of New York intellectuals. Her voice is sharp and sophisticated but leavened by vulnerability and self-deprecation. A sense of fatalism lingers near the surface, but so do the characters’ dreams and desires.
...fiction that nimbly renders complex lives and inner tumult without pieties or clichés ... In addition to sharp acknowledgments of racism's corrosive effects, Collins's broader discussion of race in these stories amplifies that found in Losing Ground: She is ever alert to the sentimentality that attaches to narratives about black life, a mawkishness that obscures and dishonors hard truths.
Collins toys with human beings as shadows, who fade in and out of one another’s lives, and she carefully depicts how abandonment and attachment can be two sides of the same experience ... Collins truly understands her characters in all of their ambivalence and complexity, and she shows how respectability politics governs many of their lives, with devastating effects ... There is an impressive balance of candidness and lyricism in these stories ... Collins was a contemporary of Alice Walker and Jamaica Kincaid, and we should make room for her in the literary canon.
Collins's ideas lose none of their force or vitality on the page; if anything, they have found an even more natural medium ... her writing is so satisfying, so dense with humor and hurt and feeling ... This is the magic of Collins's voice: the firm belief that even the most private of metamorphoses sends out ripple effects far into the real world.
Although politics tinge these stories, Collins' primary mission is to focus with white-hot intensity on the emotional lives of her characters ... Collins' stories are frank and elegant time capsules from the past that will speak with urgency and beauty to readers of today.
Not every piece is equally accomplished, and 'The Happy Family' is an outright dud — though even then Collins’s point is interesting: She has chosen a mannered white man for her narrator, knowing that he will tell the story wrong. Collins doesn’t go in for pyrotechnics. There is almost a politeness to her prose, even as she traces themes like love and ambition, dignity and snobbery, and the stubborn boundaries meant to keep people apart ... But the most potent story here may be 'Documentary Style.' Collins was also a film editor, and this story is set in that world, where a young black cameraman takes a job with a black-owned production company.
...rarely does a 'lost work' feel like it has cheated history by not being found ... The stories collected here, written in the late 1960s and early 1970s about black poets and white freedom riders, film-makers and painters, display an author instantly complete. They are also a record of the nuances of the civil rights movement that feels contemporary in voice and pertinent to our times ... At times Collins’s work feels so cutting and contemporary, with such an ear for speech, it could have come straight out of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. And when you reach the last story — itself repressed, mournful and magical — you feel a sense of loss that Collins’s papers most probably won’t yield a second collection ... As the world changes shape before our eyes, we need books like this to help us prepare for what is to come.
Her stories are intense meditations on love, heartbreak, youthful ennui, gender, and race ... Collins pays close attention to the minutiae of love lost. The opening story in the book, 'Exteriors,' reads like the script of a relationship’s undoing ... The stories in this collection are often conversational and candid, as though the reader has been invited to have a chat with the narrator. I read Collins’ stories and saw glimpses of myself and other black women in my life reflected back ... If not for the persistence of her daughter in bringing her work to the world, Collins’ sharp and lovely stories would be lost.
...so vivid and sharply drawn ... While various forms of ironic self-consciousness and formal experiment are found in many of the 16 stories, two of the standouts ('The Happy Family' & 'Dead Relatives...Dead Dreams') are more traditional.
...with the unearthing of Whatever Happened To Interracial Love? we are gifted with another posthumous Kathleen Collins gem that also somehow feels timely ... Whatever Happened To Interracial Love? is a meal worth requesting for your last. But if you’ve time to spare, it’s one that will surely become a regular part of your diet.
The stories cast a lively, emotionally penetrating eye on the lives of the urban black middle class in the 1970s and '80s. They make you ache with the powerfully felt sense of real people who value racial parity and collaboration, the aims of art and the necessity of commerce, fearless conversation and creative isolation ... Sensuous and immediate, the 16 slim, elliptical stories are built upon elegantly captured moments in the lives of black, white, and mixed-race characters facing family misunderstandings, existential doldrums, marital impasses, romantic conundrums.
Some of Collins’ stories are just a few pages long and read like sketches rather than fully realized fiction, leading one to wonder how her work might have evolved had she had the time and attention to keep honing her craft. But the longer pieces of Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? are rich and satisfying ... offers graceful and ambitious examinations of race, sex and femininity.
The stories are fresh, energetic, and free of the teachable moments that punctuate the empathy plot ... A typical Collins situation shows intellectual passion in conflict with the appetites of the body. Her characters — musicians, artists, and professionals — endure divorce and death, relish solitude, fail to connect. They are lifelike even when sketchy or one-dimensional.
...readers may be as surprised as I was by the rich range of the seasoned literary voice – modern, confident, emotionally intelligent and humorous – that emerges from the pages of the posthumously published Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? ... The stories were written in the late 1960s and 70s, when black power exploded, and have a persistently delightful quality of spring awakening, with sassy flower-bedecked students in bell-bottomed trousers and rollneck sweaters. Their free spirits are contrasted with their anxious, middle-class fathers, for whom the revolution has come too soon ... The stories speak to each other, eliding time, allowing characters who are versions of each other to reveal and deepen aspects hinted at previously ... Collins’s health betrayed her art; she died from breast cancer aged 46 in 1988. But 30 years on, her abandoned stories seem fresh and distinctive and, in a new age of anxiety and crisis of identity, startlingly prescient.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love felt like I dug up a secret time capsule from the 1960s and opened it to find a collection of stories that made me feel ... Sad, sexy, hopeful and honest characters fill Kathleen Collin’s beautiful book. And even though these stories were written decades ago, the issues and frustrations of her characters’ lives mimic where we are right now ... I would recommend this book to anyone looking for slivers of hope and beauty and detail. It’s for anyone who’s yearning for something, looking to get lost in other’s journeys to find themselves, immerse themselves in other’s regrets for a moment.