Evocative Tales Revealed at Last

Nearly three decades after her death, work of Jersey City native Kathleen Collins is as exciting, evocative and relevant as when first created.

Photo courtesy of the publisher.

Nearly three decades after her death, the literary and film work of Jersey City native Kathleen Collins is as exciting, evocative and relevant as when first created during the 1960s and ’70s.

Collins, one of the first African-American women to produce a feature film, died of breast cancer in 1988 at the age of 46. For decades, her unpublished work languished in a steamer trunk. Recently, her daughter, Nina Lorez Collins, arranged for restoration of Collins’s film, Losing Ground, a  dramatic comedy depicting artsy black professionals. The film received little attention in the U.S. when released in the early 1980s, though it found success overseas.  In 2014, the restored version was included in a festival of black independent movies and played at Lincoln Center to sold-out crowds for three weeks. That paved the way for Lorenz Collins to compile Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (Ecco, 2016), a collection of 16 of her mother’s never-released short stories.

Collins was first an activist (a Freedom Rider and speechwriter), later an assistant Broadway musical director and  a professor of film history and screenwriting at City University of New York. All the while, she wrote. Her stories, reaching beyond the pigeonhole view of black American life at the time, tackle issues of  race, class, creativity, relationships and family. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, the title work of the collection, portrays black and white civil-rights workers as activism grew, flourished and died.

Written when African-Americans were “colored” (and by Collins’s pen, colored vividly), the stories feature characters who are complex, animated and fully formed within just a few lines.

Collins often eschews the traditional story arc. Instead, her tales are buttressed by an intimate, unguarded and culturally authentic narrative voice.

The stories leave a haunting impression. Because there is no future work to anticipate, the kudos they elicit are bittersweet.

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