Laura Miller in Slate:
“You know, I don’t really talk to that many other novelists,” James McBride told me. “I don’t spend a lot of time with other writers.” It was a statement that explained a lot, while at the same time shooting a pet theory out of the water. If McBride’s most recent books—the celebrated Deacon King Kong, published in 2020, and this summer’s The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store—feel as if they’re swimming hard against the tide of current literary fashion, it’s apparently not deliberate. McBride has had other matters on his mind. Perhaps the best way to write a Great American Novel is not to think of yourself as a novelist at all.
The other matters preoccupying McBride include music—as a saxophonist, he toured with Jimmy Scott, and he has written songs for artists as varied as Anita Baker and Barney the purple dinosaur—and the New Brown Memorial Baptist Church, founded by his parents in 1954, and to which McBride still belongs. The church is in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where Deacon King Kong is set, where McBride grew up, and where he keeps an apartment, although he also has a place in New Jersey for when he wants to be left alone to write. That’s where he wrote his National Book Award–winning 2013 novel The Good Lord Bird.