Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tony Lindsay Presents...James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson’s short story collection, ‘Elbow Room,’ won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1978. He was the first African American to win the Pulitzer for fiction. The collection is composed of a dozen practical and reality based stories with each causing the reader to evaluate the everyday. The stories are easily read, but yet the themes are profoundly expressed.  One quickly understands why the collection garnered serious literary attention.

The characters in the collection stand from the page and walk into the imagination. None of stories have a predictable ending, and ironies vine through and around the lives McPherson created. Issues of societal perceptions: race, sexism, and caste span through the work with the touch of a writer who lives and observes.

One of the most startling character descriptions in the text refers the scared face of a woman:

"The scar still fascinated me. It was a wicked black mark that ran from her brow down over her left eyelid, skirting her nose but curving over and through both lips before ending almost in the center of her chin. The scar was thick and black and crisscrossed with a network of old stitch patterns, as if some meticulous madman had first attempted to carve a perfect half-circle in her flesh, and then decided to embellish his handiwork. It was so grotesque a mark that one had the feeling it was the art of no human hand and could be peeled off like so much soiled putty. But this was a surgeon’s office and the scar was real. It was as real. It was as real as the honey blond wig she wore, as real as her purple pantsuit. I studied her approvingly. Such women have a natural leaning toward the abstract expression of themselves. Their styles have private meaning, advertise secrete distillations of their souls. Their figures, and their disfigurations, make meaningful statements. Subjectively, this woman was the true sister of the man who knows how to look while driving a purple Cadillac. (119-120)"

This except is from “The Story of a Scar” a passionate tale of forlorn love, prejudice, and jealousy, but the prejudice is not the prejudging of a race but of image and appearance. As with every story in the collection, the reader is taken to an unexpected end and coaxed into looking at everyday life a bit different.  ‘Elbow Room’ is a must add to any fiction collection.      

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His book ONE DEAD DOCTOR was chosen by Conversations Book Club as one of its Top 100 Books of 2012. Lindsay was named Conversations Author of the Year 2012-2013.  His new book EMOTIONAL DRIPPINGS is available now on He can be reached at or on Facebook at

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