Karen Grigsby Bates

Anthony Bourdain is being mourned, of course, by fellow chefs and foodies for his sardonic exposés about what really happens in the kitchens of some of America's best restaurants. And for his travels to explore the world's cuisines. But communities of color, women, people who are gender-different from the perceived norm — those people sent heartbroken tributes, too.

Back in May, 1963, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy invited a select group of black entertainers to meet with him at his father's apartment in New York City.

Singer-actor Harry Belafonte was there. So was Lorraine Hansberry, whose play about black upward mobility, A Raisin in the Sun, had received rapturous reviews when it debuted two years earlier. Writer James Baldwin came, as did singer Lena Horne. Each of the invitees was active in civil rights, and Bobby Kennedy was interested in hearing more about the movement.

A love story between a black Army nurse and a white German POW during World War II? You couldn't make that story up — and Alexis Clark didn't. The former editor at Town & Country is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of Journalism. I spoke with her about her new book, Enemies in Love, and what she learned about hidden Army history and the human heart.

Below is an edited version of our conversation.


What was the inspiration for this book, what got you rolling?

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Some people read about history; poet Kevin Young actually saw an important part of history each week, when he went to his family's church in Topeka, Kan. The former pastor of St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church was the Rev. Oliver Brown, of Brown v Board of Education fame. Rev. Brown was before Young's time, but he was still a felt presence.

The current furor over the Brooklyn Museum's appointment of a white woman to oversee the museum's African art collection is not surprising or infuriating to Steven Nelson. Nelson is an African-American art historian at UCLA who specializes in African art, and he says, "There are very few of us in the field."

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During a fellowship to Harvard, writer Tayari Jones spent months and months studying the intersection of race and criminal justice. She learned a lot about the American criminal justice system. She knew all the grim statistics. But she was still searching for the inspiration for a novel she'd hope to write: one that involved an individual's encounter with the system, and the subsequent ripples that touch that person's community.

Then, while she was in Atlanta visiting her mother, she found what she needed during a routine trip to the shopping mall.

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