NPR’s Scott Simon talks to Nina Collins about a new book of short stories written by her late mother, Kathleen Collins, one of the first African-American filmmakers. The book is called “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?”
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Much of the world is getting to know the work of Kathleen Collins – all the more to regret that she’s not around to hear the praise. Kathleen Collins was a writer and filmmaker who died in 1988 of breast cancer. She was 46 years old.
Her 1982 film, “Losing Ground,” was one of the first features directed by an African-American woman. It never opened in theaters. But last year, the film sold out at Lincoln Center. And now her first collection of short stories has been published, “Whatever Happened To Interracial Love?”
Stories, almost all of them unpublished in Kathleen Collins’ lifetime, have now been collected by her daughter Nina Collins and published by HarperCollins – no relation. Nina Collins, who’s been a literary agent and a writer, joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
NINA COLLINS: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: I have to begin by asking – you’ve worked so hard to bring your mother’s work to new attention. But I gather, having read articles you’ve written over the years, that you didn’t feel particularly close to her when you were a child.
COLLINS: No, I think I did feel really close to her. But I – she was quite preoccupied as a mother. She was – as much as I know, she loved us. She was probably a writer more than she was anything else. And so our childhood was complicated.
You know, she was a divorced, single, black woman writer-mother. She had no money. And so I think it was hard. And I think she was frequently depressed. And then when she died when I was 19 of an illness that she’d kept a secret for, it turns out, much of my childhood – she first got sick when I was 11, and I didn’t know about her cancer until two weeks before she died.
It was a huge trauma. And I’m probably, you know, still not quite in touch with the anger I feel about it. Or maybe I am. Maybe that’s what’s come out in all this – in this process and the writing I’ve done.
SIMON: Where do these stories come from? Where’d you find them?
COLLINS: She had remarried shortly before her death. And my stepfather and I didn’t get along very well. And so in the aftermath of her death, kind of in the immediate aftermath, I gathered all of her stuff that I could and put it in this trunk – all of her writings and photographs and journals and really whatever I could kind of lay my hands on – and took it with me.
And then in my mid- to late 30s, I went through a very difficult personal time in my life. And I really needed to understand what my own pain was about in my childhood. And so I took this trunk up. And I opened it up. And I started to read it.
And, for me, they’re probably the most powerful of anything she’s done because they’re so completely autobiographical. I mean, I recognize pretty much every character setup, every single story I can – you know, I think I know the story behind, to some extent. And so, for me, they were this incredible gift into my mother’s life, which I felt I had so many questions about and, you know, not enough answers.
Source: NPR | Scott Simon