“Bill Kelly is a terrific writer.” —John A. Williams
Novelist, short fiction writer, and educator: Born in New York , William Melvin Kelley attended Fieldston School and Harvard University. He has taught literature and writing at the New School for Social Research, the State University or New York at Geneseo, and the University of Paris, Nanterre.
From the beginning of his career in 1962, William Melvin Kelley has employed his distinctive form of Black comedy to examine the absurdities surrounding American racial attitudes. His first novel [A Different Drummer] showed the influence of William Faulkner by creating a microcosm in a mythical southern state; his last [Dancers on the Shore] pays tribute to James Joyce's stylistic innovations. Like Faulkner's, his works are connected by a cast of common characters. —Robert E. Fleming, excepted from The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997)
Format: Paperback, 256pp.
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Pub. Date: February 2001
Edition Desc: REPRINT
dem is the AALBC.com on-line reading group's selection for March 2001
Kelley's 1967 novel is here reprinted as part of the press's Black Arts Movement Series: books from the resurgence of African-American literature during the '60s and early '70s. For this edition, John Wright provides a long scholarly introduction placing the novel in its historical context. On dem's first appearance, Kirkus (July 15, 1967, p. 828) noted its episodic form, and its racial schematics, especially in the fourth section, in which a woman gives birth to twins, one black and one white. Overall, though, "some very good writing carries along the excess of symbolism." Finding it more contrived than Kelley's other work, we found it also "more angry," as well as a "powerful and delicate handling of a heavy theme and an unwieldy plot."
Format: Paperback, 205pp
Pub. Date: May 1990
Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Incorporated
Nearly three decades (circa 1960) offer its first publication, A Different Drummer remains one of the most trenchant, imaginative, and hard-hitting works of fiction to come out of the bitter struggle for African-American civil rights.
Set in a mythical backwater Southern town, A Different Drummer is the extraordinary story of Tucker Caliban, a quiet, determined descendant of an African chief who for no apparent reason destroys his farm and heads for parts unknown--setting off a mass exodus of the state's entire Black population. A novel of compelling power and haunting impact.
Dancers on the Shore
Format: Paperback, 213pp
Pub. Date: November 1990
Publisher: Howard University Press
Dancers on the Shore is a collection of sixteen short stories about love, fear, anger, hate, despair, loneliness, and hope. Many of the main characters appear in several of the stories, thus weaving a delicate thread throughout the collection.
A Drop of Patience
Click to order via Amazon
Format: Paperback, 237pp
Pub. Date: May 1996
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
In A Drop of Patience, William Melvin Kelley tells the searing story of Ludlow Washington, a black jazz musician, with the emotional intensity of the blues. Blind since childhood and put into a state home, Ludlow first learns the piano and later takes up the horn. When at fifteen he is released to the custody of a bandleader, his unmistakable talent takes him on an odyssey from Boone's Cafe, a small dive in New Marsails, to New York where he becomes a leading, visionary jazz musician. This is the coming of age story of a man set apart - by blindness, by race, by artistry - who must learn through adversity not only who he is and whom to trust, but also from where he derives his self worth. The Dark Tower Series brings this neglected classic back into print after an absence of many years. Considered by Stanley Crouch to be one of the finest novels ever written about jazz - an exploration of the African-American experience that evokes comparisons to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man - A Drop of Patience is an exquisite and forceful parable of moral and spiritual blindness and a staggering work of art.