A Reflection on Color in Patrice Gopo’s “All the Colors We Will See”

Patrice Gopo’s All the Colors We Will See was released by Thomas Nelson this week. The book was named a Barnes & Noble Fall 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection. Patrice will read from and discuss the book at Park Road Books at 7 pm this Thursday.


In one of the essays in her new collection All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo conveys the uncertainty and despair she often felt while working as a chemical engineer at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, writing, “I cried not about the reality of my daily life, the commute to a seemingly endless surface parking lot, the elevator I rode up each morning, the dull walls and dusty floors. Rather, I cried about what my life might be, that there might exist another occupation replete with a greater palette of colors.” Thankfully, this despair didn’t crush her. Instead it pushed her onto a journey through which she “finally stumble[d] into writing” and found a way to broaden the color spectrum for readers lucky enough to stumble onto her book.

Writing may not have been her first vocation. But working with color at Eastman Kodak seems to have been an essential turn toward it. I’ve always been amazed by the synchronicities that weave through our lives, the patterns we inherit through genetics and through the particular families and cultures in which we are raised, as well as by the choices we make for ourselves as we quest and stretch toward some often unconscious knowledge of who we are—and who we are meant to be. For many, if not most of us, the themes and metaphors that are to be our life’s work seem to be with us from the very beginning, “coloring” every turn in the road. After reading her new collection of perceptive essays, one can clearly see that Gopo’s path circumambulates the field of color, particularly as it relates to race––a topic she examines with the eye of an artist, the precision of an engineer, and the devotion of a pilgrim.

The word color is both noun and verb, both term and metaphor. Color is a phenomenon of visual perception that gives us a way to differentiate and describe objects in the world around us. But it can also indicate pretense or deceptive appearance of some kind. Colorful language is vivid language. A colorful story is sometimes true. Sometimes we wear colors that tell others what group we belong to. At other times, whether we mean to or not, we “show our true colors” through our words and actions. And color is the word used to describe skin pigmentation, especially when that skin is not “white.”

All of these definitions of color are woven into the narratives Gopo tells about her experience as a black American––first growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, the child of Jamaican immigrants in a predominantly white community, and later traveling the world, meeting her Zimbabwean husband, and raising two daughters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before she went away to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Gopo’s primary experience of race was one of feeling different—of having a darker skin color and different hair than other kids in school and church. Once in college, however, Gopo also realized that because she didn’t receive a traditional black American experience from her immigrant parents and because there wasn’t much of a black community in Anchorage, neither did she feel completely at home within black culture on campus.

The fairly unusual circumstances of Gopo’s heritage and experience have situated her in a liminal place, a between space, that allows her to examine through a unique lens the topics of color, race, culture, identity, and the many of the barriers that keep people divided. The personal stories she tells in these essays challenge us to lean into a deeper observation of and reflection of color, of the ways in which we perceive (and don’t) the experiences of people who’ve lived their lives in different shades of skin.

Where’s the Library at, a**hole?

In the old grammar joke, that’s how the bright freshman responds to the Harvard professor when he’s reprimanded for ending a sentence with a preposition. Finding balance between being right and being obnoxious is a delicate dance, one I’m beginning to wonder is worth navigating at all.

I was an English major. I am an avid reader. I spend most of my day thinking about writing—my own or that of others. But admittedly I break “The Rules” all the time. To me, beginning a sentence with a conjunction is a reasonable move if it renders a sentence more approachable. And (see what I did there?) while some will take issue with me, I won’t lead the charge for who vs. whom or can vs. may. In modern parlance, they have become nearly interchangeable (cue the wailing of middle school English teachers). Even so, I wonder which, if any, rules matter anymore as we contend with the daily torrent of words we both consume and produce.

Language is a living thing, one that’s always changing and adapting. I appreciate being afforded these greater degrees of nuance. Each year Webster’s Dictionary adds over a thousand new words to the lexicon. For instance, the next time I spy a typo on the froyo shop sign and react with a facepalm, you’ll be able to accurately describe my action and its cause. But after the facepalm? What next? What happens when the daily twitterings out of the highest office in the land are a bland word salad composed of limp iceberg lettuce mixed with “great” carrots and “huge” cucumbers. Do words and the rules governing them matter anymore?

And speaking of typos: over the past two weeks or so, a number of flagrant errors have accosted my hypersensitive eye: the political mailers advocating for the “perseveration of rights” and “formally incarcerated individuals.” Or the KFC placard—fast food signs being a notorious source of typos—touting its spicy chicken “sanwich.” Even those who know better (or should know to be more careful) make these mistakes, such as the nonprofit executive director who writes of his staff’s  “extrodinary” work. Do proofreaders still exist? Or are most people counting on autocorrect to save their bacon? These missteps send me rifling through the junk drawer for the nearest red pen. As the coffee mug slogan goes, I am silently judging your grammar. (Like vs. as. There’s another one.)

I recently finished reading a long novel that I’d checked out from the library. A fellow library patron had noted a typo on one of the pages by circling it with a pink highlighter. And not just circled it, but attempted to excise the errant word ending with the correct proofreader’s mark. Clearly one of my people. While I would not have done so myself (marking a library book a graver sin than making a typo) I recognized, even appreciated, this act of resistance. For lovers of language, such mistakes make us twitch. We want to make it right. We’re the ones who, on happening across the lovely word ‘lexicon,’ say it to ourselves under our breath: lexicon, lexicon, lexicon, until we’re driven to the dictionary to relearn that it’s derived from the Greek lexis, meaning word or speech.

What if, to use another word from the same Greek root, you’re dyslexic? What if, dyslexic or not, you simply couldn’t care less if someone swaps perseveration for preservation. Eh, you figure, they know what I mean. Maybe I should remove the comma splice from my own eye before noting you used complementary where you should have chosen complimentary. Maybe if we writers and readers are the standard bearers, we can share our love of language with the rest of the world without sounding like a**holes. Shall we discuss it? Shall we discuss shall?


Lisa Zerkle’s poems have appeared in The Collagist, Comstock Review, Southern Poetry Anthology, Broad River Review, Tar River Poetry, Nimrod, Sixfold, poemmemoirstory, Crucible, and Main Street Rag, among others. Author of the chapbook, Heart of the Light, she has served as President of the North Carolina Poetry Society, community columnist for The Charlotte Observer, and editor of Kakalak. She is the curator of Charlotte Lit’s 4X4CLT, a public art and poetry series.

Pardon This Intrusion: Frankenstein 200 Years Later

Leslie Klinger, editor of the New Annotated Frankenstein, discusses When Literature Becomes Myth: Celebrating 200 Years of Frankenstein at CPCC’s Sensoria Festival. Monday April 9 at 10:30 am, Central Campus, Tate Hall.  Free.


Two centuries after Frankenstein first appeared, we need to remember how eloquently the creature speaks. Not the monster who debuted on stage in 1823’s Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein, the one whose film history began with the 1910 one-reel Frankenstein from Thomas Edison. Hundreds of films, TV shows, stage plays, even musicals have followed them, from James Whale’s 1931 classic through Universal Studios’ upcoming remake of The Bride of Frankenstein. Granted, they have given us some of our most enduring cultural tropes: the mad scientist, the grunting monster, the torch-wielding mob. But they have drowned out a remarkable voice, one we need to hear now more than ever.

That voice belongs to the creature of Mary Shelley’s novel, published anonymously on January 1, 1818, and never out of print since. It is the voice of an articulate autodidact conceived by a girl a few months shy of her nineteenth birthday, motherless herself, displaced from family and proper society because of her elopement with a married rakish flake, creating what she later called her “hideous progeny” while holed up under rainy skies darkened by the global ash-cloud from Mt. Tambora’s eruption.

It is the outcast who faces Victor Frankenstein on the sea of ice and speaks the most moving words in the novel, the one who has by then found an abandoned book satchel containing the essential Romantic Era reading list and uses Paradise Lost to plead a case that convicts us all to this day. Speaking to his creation for the first time, Victor greets him as “Devil,” but the creature is far ahead of him: “I expected this reception. All men hate the wretched.” He proceeds to tell his wretched tale, beginning with the night Victor brought him to life and promptly abandoned him.

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel,” he says, and Paradise Lost informs his tale and underscores the novel’s indictment of society. Steeped as she was from childhood in the great intellectual tradition, Mary Shelley knew very well the key scenes in Paradise Lost: Adam coming to life in the sun-drenched Garden of Eden, able to open his mouth and name every creature which presented itself to him, Eve so enchanted with her beautiful reflection that she almost refused to leave it. By contrast, the creature describes waking to darkness and cold. When he tries to imitate the sounds of night birds, the “uncouth and inarticulate” sounds he makes frighten him into silence. In contrast to Eve, the creature sees his reflection only after he has been admiring the De Lacey family from his hiding place. He has come to appreciate beauty, and with that understanding has come the recognition of how hideously he has been made.

Even Satan had his fellow devils, but the creature has no one; worse than that, he has read the great Miltonic explanation of the chain of being and found himself utterly excluded. When the creature makes his attempt to be included, when he approaches blind father De Lacey, his first words to another human being are “Pardon this intrusion.” Of course, at this point De Lacey’s children return, immediately assume a monster is attacking their father, and chaos typical of the movies ensues.

From that moment until the creature meets Victor, the series of mishaps and misdeeds that follow lead him to confront Victor and make the argument that he should have his own Eve. “I am malicious because I am miserable,” he says. He lays the blame for that misery at the feet of Victor, who created him and fled; that blame also lies on the man who shot him after the creature had saved his daughter from drowning (a scene turned around horribly in the Whale film), on the villagers who drove him away with stones and sticks, even on Felix De Lacey for assuming instinctively that because he was hideous he was evil. Give me a mate, he asks, and we will go to the wilds of South America. There, as he has learned from his reading, he and his mate will find the better Eden in each other’s arms. Victor is moved by the argument, at least until the moment when he aborts his second creation and puts the novel’s tragic conclusion into motion.

Jill Lepore’s recent New Yorker article points out how the creature’s story resembles a slave narrative, connecting it to Mary Shelley’s reading about slave rebellions in Haiti and the West Indies and also to the life of Frederick Douglass. The comparison is apt with regard to both the extraordinary way Douglass obtained his education and to his struggle to assert the full humanity of people of color to a society which considered them savage children. Lepore points out that in James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein, the monster is lynched. I think it is even more telling that in Mary Shelley’s novel, the creature has internalized society’s condemnation and decides to immolate himself.

Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws, a parallel biography of Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft, makes a fascinating case that both were hampered and unappreciated by the men in their lives: as thinkers, as writers, as full equals to the supposedly progressive and revolutionary men with whom they were intimately associated. Through her creature, Mary Shelley also speaks out against patriarchy, certainly against how the Miltonic chain of being justified the prevailing political and economic hierarchy—and hierarchy within families—as God-ordained.  Though the creature measures himself against Adam and Satan, I see him as similar to Eve, sent to gather food while the angel Raphael warned Adam of Satan’s designs. Like the creature eavesdropping on the De Lacey family (the pun is unavoidable) Eve is forced to obtain knowledge only by subterfuge, then judged as fallen by those who did not deign to teach her.

Mary Shelley’s novel has serious flaws: improbable plot devices, overwrought and silly dialogue, and a neophyte author’s attempt to make it everything from moral fable to philosophical argument to travelogue. But it is intricately and artfully presented through narrative framed within narrative, and at its heart the creature speaks what he rightfully calls the most moving part of the tale.

Today, even if the mob is carrying tiki torches or the stones are cast on-line, the creature still confronts us on behalf of anyone who is labelled Other, who is blamed, exploited, excluded or forced to assert that his or her life matters. Read the novel, or read it again, through the lens of the 21st century. Heed the voice of the creature.


Gastonia poet and writer David E. Poston taught for thirty years in public school, at UNC-Charlotte, and at Charlotte’s Young Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in journals and anthologies such as Broad River Review, English Journal, Pedestal, The Cape Rock, The Southern Poetry Anthology: North Carolina, and Kakalak. His poetry collections are My Father Reading Greek, Postmodern Bourgeois Poetaster Blues, and Slow of Study. He served on the steering committee for Charlotte Lit’s Carson McCullers centennial celebration in 2017 and currently serves on the boards of the Friends of the Gaston County Public Library, Gaston Literacy Council, and Charlotte Writers’ Club. He teaches writing workshops for Hospice and other venues and will talk about Frankenstein or Paradise Lost to any group that will listen.

Poet Stuart Dischell

The Arts at Queens proudly presents The English Department Reading Series and poet Stuart Dischell, Thursday, March 15, 7 pm, Ketner Auditorium, Sykes Building, Queens University of Charlotte. More Info


The poet Stuart Dischell’s fifth collection, Children with Enemies, has recently been released by The University of Chicago Press. His first, Good Hope Road, was a National Poetry Series Selection. Those poems—that book—matter very much to me, as I had the great fortune of being in Stuart’s first class of creative writing graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

For me, Stuart has modeled what it means to be a poet: to love language well, to reach outward toward a writing community. He showed me how to navigate a writing future, assisting me whenever possible. Because of him, I internalized the importance of reading for myself in a necessary, self-guided way. He brought poets to his students’ attention as all great teachers do; Stuart also brought them to us in person, to teach us and socialize with us (even Seamus Heaney, the week before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature).Writers who are gone he made present (in particular for me, Randall Jarrell and Etheridge Knight).

Stuart’s literary gifts have carried forward in his subsequent collections, evolving in their vision and honing their strengths. He calibrates his diction, his rhetoric and structures, whether delivering the poem in third person or first. He gives voice to the herd in tall grass or the puppet with a complaint. Poems can be personas or personal lyrics, or are presented as if overheard by a silent listener. He is a master of the varied and unexpected list. He often takes us through the city, shows us the lives beyond its windows, takes us to wharves or down neighborhood streets. There are people and avenues, dogs, women in the rain, workers at a manhole cover, a mom in a ball cap, and evenings at a Paris bar. In this peopled world there is both comfort and despair.

I have learned much from his lines—so natural in how they proceed one to another, and yet each cohesive and resonant unto itself. What sets Stuart’s lines and their handling of story and music apart, though, are the ways he accomplishes all of this through image. Song and lineation, in Stuart’s poems, resound by way of his command and gift for metaphor. His images apprehend the world as captured exactly by a voice—the old horses at the fence, how “Their veined faces/ Scare me a little/ And the top lips they pull back/ Show large yellow teeth.”

His images often locate an enviable, compressed poignancy. “It’s the smile of the wire that breaks your neck,” concludes the poem “Beneath the Blast” in his new book. Many of the poems in Children with Enemies, with its notable bright green cover and red-eyed spider, summon a wild energy, achieved by tracking a ray of sunshine or invisible alphabets. Poems make wide assertions, made insistent through the particular. The stomach must be forgiven for its vomit. The lost father has become “a statue of air.” There is tension here between the harmless and harmful. Sometimes the tragedy is not getting what you want for your birthday, but this is, upon proper reflection, reason for a deep loneliness.


Stuart Dischell’s poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Agni, The New Republic, Slate, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and anthologies including Essential Poems, Hammer and Blaze, and  Pushcart Prize. A recipient of awards from the NEA, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, he teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Julie Funderburk is author of the poetry collection The Door That Always Opens (LSU Press). She is the recipient of fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Sewanee Writers Conference. She is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Queens University in Charlotte, NC, where she directs The Arts at Queens.