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It was the place where it was possible to own a house.It was a district where it was highly unlikely that one would be moved on if real estate speculators decided to gentrify the neighborhood. With the twenties and thirties came the real rush of black migration from the south, and the rush of white migration from downtown Manhattan.
Q: Midtown New York has changed dramatically over the 90 years since Bert Williams and George Walker starred on Broadway–there isn’t an elevated train on 53rd Street anymore for one thing–but how do you think Harlem has changed? A: Harlem has changed dramatically since Bert Williams’s time.
For the first two decades of the twentieth century, Harlem represented great hope for black America.
He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. Only a writer as profoundly intuitive as Phillips could bring that shrouded history to light.” –O, The Oprah Magazine A Conversation with CARYL PHILLIPSQ: How did you become interested in Bert Williams’s story?
His novel Dancing in the Dark won the 2006 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, and an earlier… I had recently finished a long essay about Marvin Gaye (published in A New World Order, 2001) in which I had explored the stereotypes that bind black performers in America.
In A Distant Shore, it would be true to say that–perhaps surprisingly–Dorothy’s plight is, in some ways, more heartbreaking than Solomon’s.
Q: Early in the novel, you describe Bert and Lottie walking on 51st Street and Broadway when someone shouts “niggers” at them.
There seemed to be an aspect of performative minstrelsy to some of their work.
This all made me think increasingly about Bert Williams.
Racial insults do damage, which is why people employ them with such vigor and relish.
It takes a particularly strong-minded, or self-confident, person to know how to handle them.