The Book of Colors
Ray Barfield, associate professor of pediatrics and Christian philosophy at Duke Divinity School, has written his first novel, “The Book of Colors,” about a 19-year-old mixed race pregnant girl who faces poverty and finds redemption in an unlikely community of skid row houses near Memphis, Tenn.
Published by Unbridled Books in May, the book grew from Dr. Barfield’s experience of the importance of story-telling as a physician and teacher. He holds a joint appointment with the Divinity School and Duke University Medical School. At the Divinity School, he is one of the leaders of interdisciplinary initiatives that bring together students and faculty across the humanities, medicine, and theology. Barfield also practices pediatric oncology and leads the pediatric palliative care program at the medical school.
The novel’s central character Yslea was raised in a crack-house and struggles to express her thoughts, but learns to overcome the pain and suffering she sees around her in her own quiet way. While reeling from the death of her mother, she wanders into a local clapboard community, presided over by an aging, generous woman named Rose and charming young Jimmy, for whom ethics are often an impediment to worldly advancement.
Yslea, whose unexpected pregnancy causes her to start thinking about things differently, builds a new family for her baby around her ragtag neighbors as she remains determined to build roots and wring beauty from her surroundings. When the outside world starts to concern itself with the community, Yslea will prove able to draw new life out of the wreckage.
Through his work as a practicing physician and teaching divinity students, medical students, residents, and fellows, Barfield has brought the art of storytelling to the center of his writing and courses on the experience of illness, suffering, and dying. It is his work with low-income African American children at Duke University Hospital and his previous experience in the emergency rooms of inner-city hospitals in Memphis and Atlanta, Ga., that make him so familiar with the protagonist in The Book of Colors.
His other books include The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy and a book-length collection of poetry called Life in the Blind Spot.
See a video of Dr. Raymond Barfield and Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology at the Divinity School, giving an interactive discussion on the human side of medicine and showing how artistic expression can enhance spiritual dialogue.