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February 28, 2023


#Essays On Becoming an American Writer

by NancyElin


On Becoming an American Writer by James Alan McPherson by James Alan McPherson James Alan McPherson


Finish date: February 2023
Genre: essays
Rating: A++++
Review: On Becoming an American Writer (ISBN: 9781567927481)

Good news: James McPherson was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction…and you probably never heard of him. Now is your chance to discover this great writer! He went from segregated Savannah Georgia, to Harvard Law School to professor at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. It is  the number two university in USA for writing.

Bad news: The first 3 essays were interesting (black movement). The only objection is the scholarly tone. Not the best choices to “hook” the reader. I thought the book was going to be a soporific read…how wrong I was! I did not give up on the book…essays like Crabcakes, an essay about the comic Richard Pryor and the one that stole my heart was about his relationship with his daughter Rachel…brilliant! Just …keep reading!

Personal : This book is stunning! I did not want the book to end…so I put the author’s other books (memoir, short stories) and my reading wish list. So glad I finally got to meet James Alan McPherson!  Professor McPherson was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his short story collection Elbow Room (Little, Brown, 1977). In 1981 and he was among the first of MacArthur Scholars.


I guess the old saying goes
…just saving the best for last for #BlackHistoryMonth23.
This was an amazing collection of essays
to re-introduce  us to James McPherson.
That is exactly what I said…but oh, was I impressed.
When a book lingers….even when trying to go to sleep
then I say: This writer is a keeper!

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m happy you ended the month on a high reading note, your accolades for this book make it sound very interesting. I find the title interesting too, the “On Becoming” part feels like a reference that others can or have paid tribute to.

  2. Mar 1 2023

    Claire, “on becoming…” is important but the author wanted to explain that becoming an author for him was always tainted with race. He strived to be an “American” writer. McPherson is so insightful and I classified this book as a page-turner. No, not for suspense, but for wisdom!

  3. Mar 11 2023

    Thanks for bringing this author to my attention Nancy. Like you I had never heard of him, but I’ve only paid attention to the Pulitzer prize in recent years, so earlier winners do often pass me by.

    • Mar 12 2023

      So sad, that this author has fallen between the cracks. There is a depth in his writing that is very rare. His struggle and determination to remain a key figure and role model in his daughter’s life (10 yrs old when parents divorced acrimoniously ) is beyond belief. You can read it in the essay “Disneyland” . I hope you can find the book in the library…or perhaps order it for the bookstore! Even this morning while riding my bike in the freezing temps before breakfast….James Alan McPherson popped up in my mind. A quote the I loved after reading about the awful migration and displacement problems due to war or earthquake: “…the only true refuge a person in pain has is within another person’s heart.” Thanks for stopping by the blog!


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