James McBride was born on September 11, 1957. He is an American writer and musician. He is the recipient of the 2013 National Book Award for fiction for his novel The Good Lord Bird.
He died of cancer at the age of 45. His mother, Ruchel Dwajra Zylska (name later changed to Rachel Deborah Schilsky, and later changed again to Ruth McBride Jordan; April 1, 1921 – January 9, 2010), was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. James was raised in Brooklyn's Red Hook housing projects until he was 7 years and was the last child Ruth had from her first marriage, the last child of Rev. Andrew McBride, and the eighth of 12 children.
McBride is well known for his 1995 memoir, the bestselling book The Color of Water, which describes his life growing up in a large, poor American-African family led by his white Jewish mother. She was strict and the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. During her first marriage, to Rev. Andrew McBride, she converted to Christianity and became a devout Christian. The memoir, which won an Antifield-Wolf Book Award, over two years on The New York Times bestseller list, and has become an American classic. It is read in high schools and universities across America, has been translated into 16 languages, and sold more than 2.5 million copies.
His 2008 novel Song Yet Sung is about an enslaved woman who has dreams about the future, and a wide array of freed black people, enslaved people, and whites whose lives come together in the odyssey surrounding the last weeks of this woman's life. Harriet Tubman served as an inspiration for the book, which gives a fictional depiction of a code of communication that enslaved people used to help runaways attain freedom. The book, based on real events that occurred on Maryland's Eastern Shore, also featured the notorious criminal Patty Cannon as a villain.
On September 22, 2016, President Barack Obama awarded McBride the 2015 National Humanities Medal "for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family.