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