When you hear that someone’s a best-selling, award-winning author, what do you imagine their life is like? A big house with a BMW in the driveway? James McBride, author of the smash hit The Color of Water and The Good Lord Bird, had all that for a while. But, living like a celebrity distracted him from the sort of work he wanted to do.
McBride doesn't live like a famous author. He doesn't identify himself as an author at all. He tells people he’s a musician—which he is. He plays the saxophone and piano at a professional level and he's written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington, Jr. and Gary Burton. These days, he teaches a music class for kids at a housing project in the same Brooklyn neighborhood in which he grew up.
When McBride came to the studio to talk to me, he immediately gravitated to the Steinway piano in the room. He talked to me about his mother’s last moments, the financial and personal difficulties that came after divorce, and the ways in which he has redefined success for himself.
You can read a full transcript of the interview. Here's a video of McBride accepting the 2013 National Book Award: