This month (December 2016) a short story collection by the name of Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? was released in bookstores. The author is Kathleen Collins, and her name might ring a few bells. It may sound like a distant dream, one that didn’t fully come into form. These thoughts are correct. Kathleen Collins actually died back in 1988 from breast cancer, suddenly and without warning.
It seems impossible that any more work could be published from her, like this is some sort of ghost story.
Collins had a short career, but it was a bombastic one. Her second film, Losing Ground, (1982) was the first full-length drama to be directed by an African-American woman. She also had many theatrical plays written, but a lot of her work ended up unpublished and left to her daughter, Nina Collins.
Nina had a lot to be bitter about. Her mother was a vibrant, unwavering woman in her activism and dedication to her craft, but it left very little time and love for her children back at home. Raising kids as a single mother is hard enough; raising them as a single, black artist is borderline impossible in this day and age. Kathleen Collins kept her illness a secret until two weeks before she died. She chose to treat her illness with homeopathic, New Age type treatments, and did not turn to chemotherapy until her third battle with cancer.
After her mother’s death, Nina gathered everything left of her mother, mostly on paper: short stories, plays, screenplays, journals, letters, even two old copies of her films. This ended up in a huge trunk that went with Nina wherever she moved, no matter what. But at the same time, even though the trunk stayed with Nina after Collins’s death, it remained unopened. Every time she tried, it ended up being too painful. It would remain closed for decades.
Nina would first have to face a lot of difficult memories of her mother: she stated that her mother was always preoccupied with her art, and not much with having children. She wrote virtually nonstop, and it turned to Nina to think of practical things: Bandaids; School lunches. When they went shopping for her mother’s wedding dress, she didn’t tell her daughter that she was thin because she was dying.
It was only when Nina went through her own divorce that she had the courage to face the trunk, everything that was left of her mother. She read through short stories that had never seen the light of day. There were accounts on Collins’s childhood. Fictionalized Civil Rights work. Accounts of her relationships with men, including Nina’s white father, and how she lost her own mother so young as well. Nina was exposed to a whole different world: a reminder that our parents, the good and the bad, exist within us, yet they are still different people. They have so much to teach us, one way or another.
None of this writing was published, except for one short story, a play, and Losing Ground. The latter had never been theatrically released, and Nina found most of her mother in that movie. All the spirit and fortitude her mother had in life was revealed for her daughter then. Nina reissued and restored the film, and later Losing Ground was selected to open a film festival for black independent artists in the Lincoln Center. Nina felt a new grief: her mother would never get to see it.
Now, with the publication of Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? released by Ecco Press, the most important lesson emerges: forgiveness. Nina gathered her short stories and released them, giving her mother another chance. Now, she sees Collins’s spirit everywhere, particularly in her own daughter. With age, and with her mother’s legacy, she sees what her mother was trying to attempt with her own life. It’s never one thing or another, especially with racism and other complexities of race. This new book, above all, is about acceptance. Of each other, of ourselves.
YouTube Channel: Wochit Entertainment
Featured image via Kathleen Collins