Author Emily Bernard Explores Race And Personal History In 'Black Is The Body'

Jan 24, 2019

Emily Bernard has stories to tell. Some are hers and some were passed down by family members, but all of them connect in a deeply personal way to her sense of being as a black woman in America. The essays are collected in a new book called "Black Is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine."

The first essay in the book is called "Scar Tissue.” It deals with an act of random violence Bernard suffered - While at Yale University in Hartford, Conn., she was one of several people stabbed in a coffee shop. The attacker was white. While she doesn't think the attack was racially-motivated, her parents do. Bernard has come to see the stabbing as a metaphor for race relations in this country.

"That encounter kind of reflects, or is connected, to a generational dissonance that I'm trying to work out throughout the book."

Bernard says putting such a vulnerable essay in the book's first pages signals to the reader of what will follow.

“[It tells the reader] ‘This is what I’m prepared to do. This is how much I’m prepared to share.’ Hoping the reader will kind of go with me on that journey and allow themselves to be just as vulnerable as I can make myself in these early pages.”

Bernard, a professor of English and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont, credits the incident for releasing the storyteller within her. She conceived of the book while in the hospital recovering from surgery after the attack.

She will be reading from her new book at Phoenix Books in Burlington on Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 6:30 p.m.