The African-American film-maker Kathleen Collins (1942–88) packed a lot into a life cut cruelly short by cancer. A civil rights activist in the 1960s, she turned to screenwriting in the 1970s, achieving critical success with her 1982 film Losing Ground and writing several plays, including In the Midnight Hour (1978) and The Brothers (1980). The material collected in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? hadn’t seen the light of day until the New York imprint Ecco Press published it for the first time in late 2016, so there is a temptation to regard it with the condescension befitting a cultural curio – as the dabblings of an artist working outside her medium. On the contrary, however, these short stories are a case study in how a keen cinematic sensibility can energise prose fiction: Collins teases narrative out of pregnant exchanges, epistolary fragments and freeze-framed vistas to produce a vivid snapshot of a singular moment in 20th-century social history.
The title story is set in 1963, when ‘integration is a pulsating new beat’, an irresistible force that comes up against the immovable object of grim-faced paternal dogmatism. A black father evinces contempt for his daughter’s white boyfriend, even though he is pro-civil rights: ‘He did not want her to