One of the great jazz novels of any era, A Drop of Patience tells the story of a blind horn player’s journey through the themes of race, blindness, and music.

At the age of five, Ludlow Washington is given up by his parents to a brutal white-run state institution for blind African American children, where everyone is taught music—the only trade by which they are expected to make a living. Ludlow is a prodigy on the horn and at fifteen is “purchased” out of the Home by a bandleader in the fictive Southern town of New Marsails. By eighteen, he is married with a baby daughter, but as his reputation spreads, he seeks to grow musically, leaving his budding family for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in New York City. Navigating the worlds of music and race and women, Ludlow’s career follows an arc towards collapse, a nervous breakdown, recovery, a long-delayed public recognition, only for him to finally abandon the spotlight and return to his roots and find solace in the black church.     

A Drop of Patience is a brilliant portrayal of a jazz musician. It stands apart as an exemplary parable of African American history, of racial politics, and of musical creative genius.
 
A Drop of Patience is a moving, painful, and stinging experience.” —The New York Times Book Review

“William Melvin Kelley . . . brought a fresh, experimental voice to black fiction in novels and stories that used recurring characters to explore race relations and racial identity in the United States.” —William Grimes, The New York Times

“[A] stylistic triumph . . . considerably more than a story about jazz, Negroes, and the fringe of society. On any level, this is quite an achievement.” —Library Journal
WILLIAM MELVIN KELLEY was born in New York City in 1937 and attended the Fieldston School and Harvard. The author of four novels and a short story collection, he was a writer in residence at the State University of New York at Geneseo and taught at The New School and Sarah Lawrence College. He was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for lifetime achievement and the Dana Reed Prize for creative writing. He died in 2017. View titles by William Melvin Kelley

About

One of the great jazz novels of any era, A Drop of Patience tells the story of a blind horn player’s journey through the themes of race, blindness, and music.

At the age of five, Ludlow Washington is given up by his parents to a brutal white-run state institution for blind African American children, where everyone is taught music—the only trade by which they are expected to make a living. Ludlow is a prodigy on the horn and at fifteen is “purchased” out of the Home by a bandleader in the fictive Southern town of New Marsails. By eighteen, he is married with a baby daughter, but as his reputation spreads, he seeks to grow musically, leaving his budding family for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in New York City. Navigating the worlds of music and race and women, Ludlow’s career follows an arc towards collapse, a nervous breakdown, recovery, a long-delayed public recognition, only for him to finally abandon the spotlight and return to his roots and find solace in the black church.     

A Drop of Patience is a brilliant portrayal of a jazz musician. It stands apart as an exemplary parable of African American history, of racial politics, and of musical creative genius.
 
A Drop of Patience is a moving, painful, and stinging experience.” —The New York Times Book Review

“William Melvin Kelley . . . brought a fresh, experimental voice to black fiction in novels and stories that used recurring characters to explore race relations and racial identity in the United States.” —William Grimes, The New York Times

“[A] stylistic triumph . . . considerably more than a story about jazz, Negroes, and the fringe of society. On any level, this is quite an achievement.” —Library Journal

Author

WILLIAM MELVIN KELLEY was born in New York City in 1937 and attended the Fieldston School and Harvard. The author of four novels and a short story collection, he was a writer in residence at the State University of New York at Geneseo and taught at The New School and Sarah Lawrence College. He was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for lifetime achievement and the Dana Reed Prize for creative writing. He died in 2017. View titles by William Melvin Kelley

Books for Black History Month

Join Penguin Random House Education in celebrating the contributions of Black authors, creators, and educators. In honor of Black History Month in February, we are highlighting stories about the history of Black America, the experiences of Black women, celebrations of Black music, and essential books by Black writers. Find more books from Penguin Random House:

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Reading A DROP OF PATIENCE Through a Blind-Culture Lens

Written by By M. Leona Godin, author of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness In William Melvin Kelley’s A Drop of Patience, we follow the life of a young Black musician named Ludlow Washington, who is placed in a school for the blind when he is five and remains there until

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Remembering William Melvin Kelley, author of A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University Anthony Reed remembers William Melvin Kelley.   William Melvin Kelley is often described as a “lost” or “forgotten” author. Those who needed to know about him have always had a way of finding him. As a young writer, interested in fiction and poetry, I knew a lot about

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