Black Is the Body

From August 6-18, join the #ColgateSummerReads virtual reading group for Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard. Read a few pages a day and join (or follow) our discussion on Twitter.

Black is the Body Book Cover

In twelve deeply personal connected essays, Emily Bernard describes what it was like to grow up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, to survive a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, to marry a white man from the North and bring him home to her family, to adopt two children from Ethiopia, and to live and teach in a mostly white New England college town. Each of these essays sets out to discover a new way of talking about race and telling the truth as Emily Bernard has lived it. 

A memoir is an invitation. The writer beckons us to slip out of our own lives, our own skins, and into theirs for a while. Along with Emily Bernard, we experience the shock of suddenly being attacked by a knife-wielding stranger in a New Haven café, the terror of needing—in 21st-century America—to pull off a Mississippi highway in order to fix a flat tire. And she brings us along for quieter moments that bear the weight of history—teaching the n-word to white students in an African American studies course, navigating her friendships with white women, making a home for herself and her family in a northern town, performing the rituals of grooming that make a black woman’s body “presentable.”

The best works of personal narrative are simultaneously deeply personal and profoundly, transcendently, impersonal. Black Is the Body is no exception. It delivers the riveting details of Emily Bernard’s life as well as an account of what it’s like for her—a black woman raised in the South, an intellectual whose body is the first thing people notice about her—to live with double consciousness. And “double consciousness” is, of course, the phrase that scholars use to describe the way that racism shapes—and sometimes breaks—those who live with it every day.

Black Is the Body is a timeless volume that speaks directly to and about the events of this summer. The essays are arranged chronologically but can be read out of order. Don’t have time to read all twelve right now? Feel free to dip in and out, joining the conversation whenever you can. If you want to engage even more deeply with the work, read and listen to some of the supplementary readings, news stories, and podcasts that will be posted to this site.

Emily Bernard
Emily Bernard (Photo by Stephanie Seguino)

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Emily Bernard earned a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. She has been the recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a W.E.B. DuBois Fellowship at Harvard University. Among others, her essays have appeared in:

The American Scholar

The Best American Essays

In addition to Black Is the Body, she has published books on figures in the Harlem Renaissance as well as an edited collection about interracial friendship. Prof. Bernard is the Julian Lindsay Green & Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont.



Order the book now at a 10% discount from the Colgate Bookstore. Discount available until September 1.

Reading Schedule

Read just a few pages each day and keep up with the virtual reading group’s conversation in August on Twitter #ColgateSummerReads.

Day Date Pages
Thursday August 6 pp. xi-xiv
Friday August 7

pp. 3-20

Bruce Shapiro "One Violent Crime"

Saturday August 8 pp. 21-44
Sunday August 9 pp. 45-69
Monday August 10 pp. 70-83
Tuesday August 11 pp. 84-97
Wednesday August 12 pp. 98-110


Day Date Pages
Thursday August 13 pp. 111-121
Friday August 14 pp. 122-136
Saturday August 15 pp. 137-162
Sunday August 16 pp. 163-192
Monday August 17 pp. 193-214
Tuesday August 18 pp. 215-218



Enrich your reading by listening to short podcasts throughout the month. Additional information including reviews and recommended readings are posted below.

Podcast Schedule & Participants

The podcast schedule will feature conversations between Jennifer Brice, an associate professor of English at Colgate University, and the special guests below. Brice is the author of The Last Settlers, a work of documentary journalism, and Unlearning to Fly, a memoir-in-essays. Her essays have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, including American Nature Writing, The Dolphin Reader, The Gettysburg Review, Iron Horse, and River Teeth.

To wrap up our reading of Black Is the Body, listen in to a conversation with the author herself, Emily Bernard.

Carina Haden ’21 is a senior English major and Art & Art History minor from Whitesboro, New York. This is her second year working with Professor Brice on the Living Writers program. Her favorite read from the 2019 list was How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, and her favorite author visit was Justin Torres for his book, We the Animals.

Kathrine Roell ’21 is a senior from Manchester, New Hampshire, studying both English Literature and French. This is her second year as a research assistant with Living Writers, and she is excited to be engaging with such an exciting group of texts and authors. This year, she is most looking forward to reading  Charles Yu’s novel Interior Chinatown. Last year her favorite Living Writers’ work was John Banville’s The Sea.

Kezia Page is an associate professor of English and Africana and Latin American Studies at Colgate University. She studies and teaches Caribbean Literature and Culture and her work has focused on Caribbean migrant and diaspora literature and, more recently, on surveillance in Jamaican art, literature and culture. Page is currently the director of the Africana & Latin American Studies Program.

Tracey E. Hucks is currently the Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Colgate University and the James A. Storing Professor of Religion and Africana and Latin American Studies.  From 2014-2017, she was the James D. Vail III Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She received her Ph.D. in the study of religion at Harvard University with a specialty in the religions of the Americas. She is the former Chair of the Department of Religion at Haverford College and the author of several publications on the history of Africana religious cultures in North America and the Caribbean. Her book, Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism examines the history of Yorùbá religious practice among African Americans in the United States, beginning in Harlem, New York. Her next book is forthcoming with Duke University Press, entitled Obeah, Orisa, and Religious Identity: Between and Beyond Colonial Imaginations and is co-authored with Colgate alumna, Dianne Stewart '90. Hucks’ research travels on Africana religious traditions have led her to Nigeria, Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, England, France, and throughout the United States.

Enrich Your Reading Experience

  • Emily Bernard refers in "Scar Tissue" to this essay, "One Violent Crime," by Bruce Shapiro, which appeared in The Best American Essays 1996. We've put it on the reading schedule for Friday, August 7.
  • In “Teaching the N-Word,” Emily Bernard refers frequently to the writings of law professor Randall L. Kennedy. Note: Library users can access this online using JSTOR.
  • What makes an autobiography? Jim Shley’s review for Seven Days explores the “unconventional” aspects of Emily Bernard’s Black Is the Body and why they work. 
  • In a new essay for Oprah Magazine, Emily Bernard finally forgives her father’s mistress
  • “There's not one [essay] that even comes close to being forgettable” says Maureen Corrigan in her NPR review. Black Is the Body is “a collection full of standouts.”
  • From U.S. race relations to the art of blackness, Emily Bernard discusses writing Black Is the Body in a WBUR interview with Meghna Chakrabarti. 
  • We have compiled a highly eclectic list of memoirs and essays by contemporary Black women writers. If there's a book you admire that we left off this list, send us an email at, and we'll add it.

Join us for a Zoom cocktail hour on Tuesday, August 18, 6-7 p.m.

We'll bring a few questions to get things started, but you should feel free to tell us your thoughts about Black Is the Body, the podcasts, or the Twitter format.  *Registration is now closed. Please email <> to be added to the conversation.

Blackness is an art, not a science.

Emily Bernard

Follow our conversation or join and add your own thoughts on Twitter #ColgateSummerReads

Continue your reading this fall with the annual Living Writers program, featuring the work of nine authors through the fall semester:

  • Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders, Sept. 10
  • Emily Bernard, Black Is the Body, Sept. 17
  • Greg Bottoms, Lowest White Boy, Sept. 24
  • David Sedaris, Calypso, Oct 8
  • Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic, Oct. 22
  • Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom, Oct. 29
  • Maisy Card, These Ghosts Are Family, Nov. 5
  • Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown, Nov. 12
  • Etgar Keret, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, Nov. 19

More about the fall 2020 program

Join the conversation on Twitter.