The Sunday Read: ‘The Kidnapped Child Who Became a Poet’
“The weird thing about growing up kidnapped,” Shane McCrae, the 47-year-old American poet, told me in his melodious, reedy voice one rainy afternoon in May, “is if it happens early enough, there’s a way in which you kind of don’t know.”
There was no reason for McCrae to have known. What unfolded in McCrae’s childhood — between a day in June 1979 when his white grandmother took him from his Black father and disappeared, and another day, 13 years later, when McCrae opened a phone book in Salem, Ore., found a name he hoped was his father’s and placed a call — is both an unambiguous story of abduction and a convoluted story of complicity. It loops through the American landscape, from Oregon to Texas to California to Oregon again, and, even now, wends through the vaster emotional country of a child and his parents. And because so much of what happened to McCrae happened in homes where he was beaten and lied to and threatened, where he was made to understand that Black people were inferior to whites, where he was taught to hail Hitler, where he was told that his dark skin meant he tanned easily but, no, not that he was Black, it’s a story that’s been hard for McCrae to piece together.
McCrae’s new book, the memoir “Pulling the Chariot of the Sun,” is his attempt to construct, at a remove of four decades, an understanding of what happened and what it has come to mean. The memoir takes the reader through McCrae’s childhood, from his earliest memories after being taken from his father to when, at 16, he found him again.
his story was recorded by Audm. To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.