Benfey Explores His Family in Memoir

Professor Christopher Benfey

In our latest Video Bookshelf entry, Mellon Professor of English and Acting Dean of Faculty Christopher Benfey talks about what he learned in writing his memoir, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay.

Subtitled Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival, Benfey’s book is a meander through the circumstances that brought his extended family to the United States and the lives they established for themselves.

Benfey’s mother descends from colonial explorers and Quaker craftsmen; his father, along with his aunt and uncle, the Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers, escaped from Nazi Europe. Both strands of the family settled near Piedmont, North Carolina, where his maternal grandfather crafted bricks from the area’s red clay, and his uncle and aunt helped establish the Bauhaus-influenced Black Mountain College.

In writing the memoir, Benfey says he learned that lives are shaped as much by coincidence as planning.

“We do what we can, but chance has its way with us.”