General News · July 26, 2022

James McBride to Deliver the 2022 Gotto Lecture

The event is set for 7 pm Thursday, Nov. 3, in the Sanctuary and on livestream.

The best-selling author, musician and screenwriter James McBride will deliver the fifth-annual Anita and Antonio Gotto Lecture at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church this fall.

James McBride is an acclaimed novelist, memoirist and journalist. His seven books include The Good Lord Bird (2013), a historical novel about the abolitionist John Brown, which received the National Book Award. The Color of Water (1996), his account of growing up in an African American family in Brooklyn led by his white Jewish mother, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded McBride the National Humanities Medal “for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America.”

McBride’s most recent novel, Deacon King Kong (2020), a tale of crime lords and church folks in 1960s Brooklyn, received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction last year.

“James McBride’s bold descriptions of race in America are flavored with a deep appreciation for church,” says Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston. “Last year, my book group unanimously declared Deacon King Kong the best book we had ever read together. It is honest, challenging and hopeful. Having spoken with McBride about coming to Fifth Avenue, I expect the same from his lecture.”

For the second consecutive year, the Gotto lecture is co-hosted by Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. The congregations will sponsor reading groups, composed of members from both churches, to meet and discuss Deacon King Kong in advance of McBride’s lecture. Information about how to join a reading group will be announced in September.

Deacon King Kong is an invitation to reflect on the complexity of New York City life and the ways in which race, faith and economics collide,” says the Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor and head of staff at First Church. “A story filled with joy and pain, McBride’s book offers a prism to examine African American, Latinx and Black immigrant culture. It also provides a lens to reflect on love, loyalty, judgment and grace – themes which are at the heart of our faith story.”

In addition to his literary achievements, McBride is a noted musician and composer. He has toured as a saxophonist sideman with jazz legend Jimmy Scott and written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Pura Fé and other artists. He lives in Brooklyn, where he is active in a congregation in Red Hook. He is currently a distinguished writer in residence at New York University.

“Mr. McBride told me he only does two events like this a year,” Scott says. “But he particularly likes speaking at churches. When I told him about our plans to read Deacon King Kong together, he said, ‘It is a powerful thing to see two congregations, one from Manhattan and one from Queens, engage topics that matter and work together to change the world.’”

Inaugurated in October 2018, the Anita and Antonio Gotto Lecture Series offers compelling talks and presentations by renowned theologians and preachers, writers and scholars, across a range of faith traditions and academic disciplines. The lectureship is made possible through a generous contribution from Anita and Antonio Gotto, longtime members of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.