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Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide


"Elbow Room" by James Alan McPherson



• Supreme Court denies quotas, upholds college racial diversity
• American Indian Religious Freedom Act and Indian Child Welfare Acts passed



James Alan McPherson grew up in poverty and attended segregated schools in Savannah. McPherson graduated from Harvard Law School, earned an MFA, then devoted himself to writing and teaching.


Featured Reader Wanted!

Featured Reader

– Share your key take-away about inclusion in this book in a sentence or two.
– Write a paragraph or two (up to 250 words) to describe your thoughts on exclusion/inclusion in the book, why you related or did not connect with the book, and why you think reading, inclusion and dialog about inclusion matter.
– Identify the name and website address of a cause you support with an inclusive mission.


Title Story: Parents on both sides object to mixed-race marriage


Car full of children call Paul, who is White, “nigger.” His Black wife couldn’t understand why he was upset: “I just laughed at the little crumbsnatchers.”


McPherson was the first African American winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The title story begins with feedback from a literary editor who subsequently interrupts the narrator with critiques.


The title story is 31 pages; entirety of Elbow Room is 288 pages; no spoken book version


Ouch. Insults that bother you may not disturb someone else because they’ve been subject to so much worse.


Interracial couple is color-blind in their choice of San Francisco friends. None of the parents embrace the marriage but Black parents attend the wedding. White father dangles divorce perks; this father’s “progress” is hiring a Black person. It takes a baby to trigger visits to the new grandparents.


Cook something spicy and fragrant with herbs in the oven. Don’t hold the red hot dish in your bare hands, even if you’re furious that a guest is giving your partner a hard time.


“In reality it was the way his relationship with the world was structured. I attempted to challenge this structure by attacking its assumptions too directly and abruptly. He sensed the intrusion and reacted emotionally to protect his sense of form. He simply shut me out of his world.”


Hang out in the kitchen.


How does Virginia’s comfort in dealing with all kinds of people around the world compare to what happened when she returned to the East Coast?
How is the word “nigger” used in the story? What about the phase “classic nigger”?
Why does a baby change relationships?
The label “insane” was used in the novel. What was the meaning and use of that word in the novel? Now?


Walking tour of San Francisco.


No known film/TV adaptations.


Read issues of The Atlantic Monthly when McPherson was an editor or “Hue and Cry” another of McPherson’s short story collections.

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