Notes on Nelson Peery’s Life, Political Activism, and Literary Works
by Michael McColly
Nelson Peery (1923-2015) was an influential Black political activist and revolutionary in America’s Freedom Movement. He is also the author of two important works of literary nonfiction,Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary and Black Radical: The Education of an American Revolutionary. These memoirs chronicle over seventy years of his life as a World War II veteran, bricklayer, political activist, labor organizer, political theorist, and teacher. Both works have become valuable for their literary merit and their eye witness accounts of important events in American social and political history.
In Black Fire, Peery recounts with warmth his growing up in a small farm town in Minnesota with his family being the only Black residents. After hoboing across the country, where he witnesses the effects of The Depression but also the solidarity of the throngs of unemployed workers he meets, he enlists in the Army to fight fascism. Peery served in the famous, all Black 93rd Infantry in the US Army, which fought in both World War I and II. Peery’s depiction of his military experience is one of the few first-hand accounts of the life of the Black solider in America’s segregated Army, particularly in the Pacific Theater of World War II. His experiences as a Black soldier radicalized him as he often stated: “In the Army I was trained to be a first class soldier, but when I came home from serving my country I was told that I could only be a second class citizen.”
In Black Radical, the sequel, he describes the existential despair experienced by the Black solider as they returned from a traumatic war only to confront racial and economic inequalities in the land and government they defended. The treatment of Black soldiers both in war and as veterans is a foundational theme in much of Peery’s work as it exposes the moral cowardice and hypocrisy in America’s government, political parties and institutions of power. Peery’s argument here in this memoir is that the Civil Rights movement and the broader political movements of social and economic justice in America were deeply influenced by the activism and radicalization of Black veterans upon returning from service in World War II. The bulk of this second memoir goes on to tell the story of his active membership in the Communist Party and subsequent dedication to advancing racial and economic justice in other Leftist political organizations. Peery’s storytelling is rich in social and political history as he describes the work of pushing labor unions to accept Black workers as well as life underground during McCarthy’s Red Scare in the 1950’s. As he moves from city to city as an organizer and bricklayer, he meets the likes of Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, and the Blues legend and American Folk singer, Lead Belly, as well as other important political actors in America’s Leftist movements.
Upon Peery’s death in 2015, he was at work on a collection of short stories that he’d begun many years ago. Many of them, including the two published here for the first time, return to the subject that meant so much to his political and literary life—his dedication to document the experience of the black soldier in World War II and their role in shaping American history.
Here in these two very different stories set in the South Pacific during the later stages of World War II, Peery dramatizes the psychological effects on the Black solider as they attempt to carry out their duties under the command of white officers. Characteristic of his works of nonfiction, these fictional pieces describes the life of Black soldiers, giving voice to their humanity as well as their sinking morale having to navigate not only the vagaries of war in the mosquito infested tropics of the South Pacific, but the day to day indignities and even physical threats of violence from white soldiers. In “Thinking About Lincoln,” Peery’s narrator describes the dehumanization of both war and racism on the mental health of his fellow Black soldiers. The rage and trauma inexorably result in a violent end. Peery’s purpose is to reveal the psychological and ethical breakdown unfortunately still so common among soldiers today who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The shorter second story, “The String Quartet,” Peery offers an account of another important theme in his writing: the universal value of music, world culture, and the performing arts on the human spirit, even in times of war and despair.
Thinking about Lincoln
By Nelson Peery
We could see them with the scope – fifteen or twenty of them on small coconut log rafts, pushing two barrels before them.
“Damn if they ain’t the most determined, stupid ass people I ever saw!” Horsecollar reached for the radio as I wrote down the coordinates for him to give to the Air Force operator. We continued to watch through the scope as the Japanese soldiers edged within a half mile of the shoreline.
The two P-38s flashed overhead. We heard the drumming of the machine guns as they crisscrossed the Japanese soldiers who abandoned their rafts, jumping into the water, swimming away from one another, hoping to escape the sights of the Black Widows. Skimming a few feet above the ocean, laying down a deadly pattern of machine gun fire the planes made two more runs. Then they turned, gaining altitude, wagging their wings goodbye as they passed our outpost.
It was too late to go out on patrol. Whoever survived the P38s probably wouldn’t survive the sharks. But we couldn’t take chances. We would have to hunt down and kill the survivors and destroy the barrels of food and ammunition they were bringing across.
I turned to Horsecollar, “We’re going to have to go out in the morning and get them. I guess we should tell the men now so they can get ready.”
“Yeah. O.K. I’ll tell them.” He slung his rifle and then turned back to me, “Sergeant, do you remember when you used to cry when somebody died? Now we just go hunting. Killing people ain’t shit. Think about it.”
“You like hunting them down and killing ‘em?”
“It ain’t that. It’s just that they stand between me and going home.”
“Well, I hope I don’t get in your way.” It was only half a joke. Ours was nasty business in a nasty war.
Horsecollar, a husky, easygoing, twenty-two-year-old from Mississippi, joined us as the regiment was formed in 1942 at Fort Huachuca in the high desert of southern Arizona. His real name was Booker T. Yancey. He soon earned the nickname “Horsecollar” by holding long and complicated lectures about various aspects of sex. Northern, white soldiers talked about the guy in the company who would fuck a snake if someone held its head. Southern rural folk talked about a horse collar. Booker T. pretended to be insulted, but since it implied that he was up to the task, he accepted the nickname.
Horsecollar enjoyed holding court, having the young soldiers gather around while he expounded his theories on sex.
“You see, your thing is like a pencil. It writes what you think. You can use it to say you love your woman – that’s one way. You can use it when you got the stones and just need some relief. That’s a second way. Then you can use it to say, ‘I hate your guts.’ ‘Course, that’s rape. So stop talkin’ that jive that fuckin’ is making love. Might be and then again, it might not be.”
Amidst the raucous, barracks laughter, the soldiers separated, saying, “Horsecollar got a point.” “That fool gonna mess up my sex life – I did it ‘cause I wanted to. Now I’m supposed to think about it.”
“That’s the whole idea.” Horsecollar yelled after him. “You do anything better if you think about what you’re doing.”
The six-foot, 210-pound farm youth with his smooth, Swiss chocolate complexion and ready smile was popular with the men in the company. I enjoyed listening to him. His constant, easy talking was full of the poetry of the rural, Black South. For Horsecollar, nothing ever “fell down.” It “tumbled down.” He never spoke of being sad or blue. He would say, “My heart took sorrow.” He never “thought,” he “studied.” When he spoke of holding some woman, he never became “hot” or “passionate,” instead, he’d say, “my love come tumbling down.”
Like many Black rural southerners, Horsecollar had a way of slightly nodding his head when you were talking too long. That slight nodding also meant: “No need to keep talking, we understand one another.” I used to become irritated when he would nod his head in the middle of my sentence. Later, I learned to appreciate that short cut, and understood it as a way of communicating when it was not judicious to speak.
By the beginning of 1943 the tide of the Pacific War began to turn. We shipped out to the South Pacific’s Fourteenth Corps Command to sustain the offensive.
Fourteenth Corps didn’t know what to do with us. We were supposed to become a showcase regiment with which the Army would prove it had elite Black combat troops as well as white. We were to prove that the Army didn’t force all Black draftees into labor battalions. Probably the best-trained regiment in the area, we rated high on all tests except the crucial one—morale. With each report of a race riot back home, with each lynching, with more and more stories of white workers walking off defense jobs when blacks were hired to work with them, our morale sank. We no longer wanted to fight. We wanted to go home. But the Army had other ideas.
Tida Bagoos is a small island, 12 miles from the much larger island of Bagoos. The Japanese General Teshima had taken the islands during the first weeks of the Japanese invasion into what was then known as the Dutch East Indies, or today known as Papua New Guinea. They assembled 45,000 crack troops on Bagoos for the next stage of the drive to Hawaii. Their offensive ground to a halt when the Japanese lost air and naval superiority at the Battle of Midway. General Teshima and his Imperial troops then had the mission of blocking the American invasion route to the Philippines. By this time, the Pacific command accepted the tactic of “hitting them where they ain’t.” Instead of invading the heavily fortified Bagoos, the Army invaded the small and lightly defended Tida Bagoos. After a few days of combat what was left of the small Japanese garrison fled into the hills where they hoped General Teshima would reinforce them with men and material from Bagoos. He kept trying.
As the white combat troops prepared to move on toward the invasion of the Philippines, it was essential that Tida Bagoos be secured against the Imperial Japanese troops across the straits. The generals thought we would do fine in that kind of mission. So our battalion received orders to secure the island.
Horsecollar stood silently beside me on the landing craft, watching Tida Bagoos come into view. I turned to him, “What you studying about, Horsecollar?”
“Well, right then my mind was running deep.” He paused for a moment. “I was thinking about how all we do is take care of these white folks. Back home we work for them – make them rich. Now we out here fightin’ for ‘em – protecting them while my folks need me back home.”
“You think you’re going to change that in the middle of a war?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sick and tired of this army. It don’t mean us no good. We just keep fightin’ for them. We ain’t fightin’ for us. I’m sick and tired of this war. I ain’t lost anything over here. I was thinking that if God would grant me one wish it’d be for a medical discharge and let them take care of me for a while.”
I smiled, “Fat chance. You gotta be dead and stinkin’ to get outa this army.”
“No, for real – I’m gonna study up on a way to do this. You think I can?”
I liked Horsecollar and didn’t want to discourage him. I said, “When I was a kid and wanted to do something, my ma would give me a quote from Lincoln. And Lincoln once said: ‘I’ll prepare myself and perhaps someday my chance may come.’”
After a moment of “studying,’ Horsecollar said, “That’s a mighty iffy saying of Lincoln’s, but it makes a lot of sense.” He slightly nodded, but I wasn’t at all sure we understood one another.
On Tida Bagoos we established patrol areas, then expanded and strengthened the defensive perimeter. Our living conditions were primitive. During rain storms the dirt and log roof over the dugout leaked leaving a constant floor of mud. The dampness fed the “jungle rot” fungus that grew in our crotch and between our toes, making life even more miserable. I was happy when our platoon was chosen to establish an outpost to monitor the straits between Bagoos and Tida Bagoos. At the outpost we were on our own, away from the white officers, and able to rest and forget the military discipline.
But we did more than just rest. Our mission was to hunt down and kill the Japanese soldiers who made it across the straits, blow up their cooking pots and destroy their supply dumps when we could find them. We worked hard at that but when not on patrol or duty on the watchtower, we were free to do as we pleased. The men fished, gambled or sat around griping about the war and the army. Horsecollar often sat to himself, clenched fists against his cheeks, elbows resting on his knees–“studying.”
Sometimes I would tease him, “Hey, Horsecollar, you thinking about Lincoln?”
“Yeah, I got to be ready ‘cause the sun shines on every dog’s ass some day.”
After a month of outpost duty we were relieved and rotated to guard duty on the beaches just behind the perimeter.
To support the upcoming invasion of the Philippines, rear echelon forces moved to the Tida Bagoos, including a hospital and staff. When they arrived, we saw American women for the first time in almost two years. There were nurses with the hospital, WACs from the postal unit, and an assortment of women office personnel. They were all white, and we knew none of us would ever even get a chance to speak to any of them. It irritated the hell out of the men to watch the inevitable unfold, an inevitability they could not participate in.
Being infantry, our outfit was caught between a deadly war of cat and mouse with General Teshima’s murderous, desperate soldiers, and watching from a distance the life of the white soldiers from our foxholes and dugouts. Stationed at the end of the island, the white soldiers lived in sturdy squad tents with wooden floors. A well-stocked Post Exchange provided them with everything from fresh cigarettes to perfume. The idea of their partying with the WACs and nurses while we lay in the mud protecting them enraged us.
Our engineers built a primitive theater – a screen and rows of logs for seats. As with everything else it was segregated. There were no signs saying “White” and “Colored,” but the Black soldiers, directed by the Military Police, sat on one side and the whites sat on the other. Unobserved by the whites, resentment by the Black soldiers crackled like electricity as the women laughed and cavorted with their men before the movie began. Horsecollar glared at them.
“The Lord said ‘the high and mighty will be brought down,’” Horsecollar said. “And somewhere it says that they gonna lose that pride as they come tumblin’ down.” Horsecollar and I never went back to the theater. The white soldiers and officers didn’t like us and we didn’t like them.
The beach behind the perimeter was one of the loveliest spots on the island. With fine, near white sand, luxuriant tropical undergrowth and waving palm trees, it was a natural lovers lane. The rapid currents that swept through the straits crashed against the beach and sometimes carried the debris of war – corpses of Japanese soldiers killed trying to cross and sometimes a barrel of food or ammunition. It was a dangerous area controlled and patrolled by my regiment. It was also an area of abrasive contact with the white soldiers.
As we relieved the company patrolling the beach, they told us stories of how almost every week the guards clashed with white soldiers who wanted to use the beach as a place of rendezvous. The white soldiers were not used to taking orders from Black soldiers and sometimes tried to give them a hard time when they were not allowed near the beach. From time to time a Black guard would level his rifle at them, arrest them and turn them over to the Military Police. Some would leave the area yelling that they “ain’t taking no shit off no niggers.” One of our soldiers told of a white Air Force officer pulling his .45, ordering the Black guard to stay away from him. He would not leave until our white officer of the Guard came down and calmed him down.
Horsecollar stood quietly listening to the stories. Finally he said, “For two years I ain’t taken no shit off the Japs, and I ain’t takin’ no shit off these white boys. Officer of the Guard just briefed us. He said there ain’t nobody but Japs and guards on that beach and our orders are: shoot to kill.”
One of the men said, “Yeah, man, but I don’t want to shoot an American soldier.”
“If I’m on guard, I’m following my orders – it don’t make me none.”
The first week of our patrolling the beach went by without incident. At the beginning of the second week it happened. A group of Japanese soldiers attempted the crossing as night was falling. The planes made their run opening up on them with machine guns and flares. A few made it to land and several others holding on to their log rafts were swept through the straits. As they approached the beach behind the perimeter, they opened fire before being swept out to sea. No damage was done, but it frightened us out of our complacency.
Our platoon pulled duty the following night. As Sergeant of the Guard, I made up the duty roster. Horsecollar was assigned to the two-hour watch from eight to ten. The Officer of the Guard, satisfied that all was in order, left to get supper and a few drinks at the white officers club. As usual we sergeants and corporals of the Guard, all Black, were left in charge.
We heard the unmistakable discharge of a M1 rifle, Bam – Bam, followed by another two shots. Then we heard Horsecollar yell: “Sergeant of the Guard! Sergeant of the Guard!”
Grabbing our weapons, we ran for the beach. Horsecollar was standing above two bodies, his bayoneted rifle dangling loosely in his right hand.
As we understood the scene before us, each gasped, “Geeesus Christ!” . . . Holy Shit! They’re dead!” One of the corpses was plainly a nurse, blood soaking her khaki uniform where two .30-caliber bullets had torn through her chest. Her skirt was folded beside her, her legs open and askew. We stood transfixed, looking at her until Sgt. Jackson covered her not-so-privates with her skirt. The other dead body was an Air Force lieutenant, his pants neatly folded to the side, his jaunty flight cap on top. With neck awkwardly bent he looked up to the stars with lifeless, terrified, hideous eyes. The bullet holes, one in his head and one in his chest, had little circles of blood around them.
Sgt. Jackson, a Black regular Army soldier, took charge even though this wasn’t his shift. He picked up an Air Force .45-caliber pistol from the sand and laid it beside the flight cap.
“Call Battalion, get the duty officer and tell him two Americans have been killed just inside the perimeter.”
I turned to Horsecollar, took the rifle from his hand and steadied him. “What happened?”
“Lord, I done killed these white folks. “
It didn’t sound like Horsecollar. “What happened, man?”
“I don’t know. I was walking my post when I heard these voices. I said, ‘Halt, who goes there?’ Nobody answered, but I thought I heard a rifle fire. I was scared after last night. I opened fire. . . . Lord, I done killed these white folks. Ain’t nobody supposed to be here but the guards and everybody else is Japs.”
Then he added as an afterthought, or something he wanted us to remember, “Lord, I done killed these white folks. I feels like it’s driving me outa my mind.”
The investigation was short and conducted in an efficient, military manner. Horsecollar was grilled by the Military Police, by Intelligence and by a special Committee of Inquiry. He stuck close to his simple and direct story, never failing to break down, almost crying, muttering, “Oh Lord, I done killed these white folks.”
The Northern officers were convinced that a farm boy from Mississippi could not possibly kill a white officer with his bare hands. The Air Force was embarrassed since adultery is a serious offense and can get an officer a dishonorable discharge. They would just as soon forget it. A couple of Southern officers did not want to accept the “… in line of duty” decision of the inquiry. They scoffed at the final verdict, that excused the two deaths as accidental, exonerating Horsecollar, as under the conditions of darkness and recent enemy activiity on the beach, he was only following orders from Command. The officer and nurse unfortunately had strayed and didn’t realize where they’d wandered in the darkness. Captain Forrest, the weasel-faced little intelligence officer from Mississippi, kept the issue alive. As Battalion Operations Sergeant, I spent a lot of time in the Headquarters tent. The Southern white officers would carry on a discussion as if I were not there or in the way you told secrets confident that your dog could not understand or betray you. I would overhear Forrest presenting his case to other officers. There had been an autopsy and certain things were ignored. Why was this officer’s neck broken? How come he didn’t bleed like the nurse? Why was his weapon out of its holster? He must have died before being shot. And that nurse had a vagina full of semen. Well, dead men don’t bleed or ejaculate.
Forrest presented his case to Colonel LeTrec, our commanding officer from upstate New York. LeTrec tried to explain the political implications. Those officers were in an area that was clearly off limits. They were committing a criminal act. The guard had orders to shoot to kill. Did Forrest understand what the colored press would do if a Negro soldier was prosecuted for carrying out his duties? Better let some sleeping dogs lie.
Horsecollar became more and more morose. I finally went to the battalion medical officer who was also Black and tried to explain Horsecollar’s situation.
“Sir, he is beginning to be off balance. He mumbles all the time about killing those people. I’m afraid he’s going to hurt himself or someone else.”
The medical officer heard me out without comment. I went back to the company area thinking that nothing would be done. The following week Horsecollar was transferred to the company we called: “Sick, Lame and Lazy.” It was a special company for the chronically ill or mentally infirm men who would be discharged “for the convenience of the government.” The lucky ones would be given medical discharges and pensions for the rest of their lives.
I went to see Horsecollar often. He would lie on his cot – staring at the vent at the top of the tent and mumble, “Lord, I done killed those white folks.”
Sometimes, if no one else was in the tent he would brighten up and ask about the men in the company and talk about the fun we had back at Fort Huachuca. When we finished talking and I got up to leave, he would look me in the eyes, barely nodding his head and say, “Pray for me.”
Within a few weeks his orders came in. He received a medical discharge, a full pension for life and immediate transportation back to the States.
I went to the airfield with him. When the officer called his name, he embraced me, shook my hand and with a slight nod said, “You take care.” He turned, and with a soldierly thirty-inch step, walked briskly to the plane.
The String Quartet
By Nelson Peery
The brilliant sun burst forth from beneath the sea to the east of Manus and Green Island. In the snap of thumb and finger the black Pacific night became the unvarying day of tropical splendor. Morning broke across the Bismarck Sea bringing to life the flora and fauna of the islands. Delicate orchids, scorpions, snakes, and spiders were aroused, opening themselves to a new day of war.
On Emirau, where the US Army’s all black 93rd Infantry was stationed, the five soldiers in the No. 2 squad tent pushed back the mosquito netting and reaching for their cigarettes mumbled the vulgarities and curses that in GI parlance meant “good morning.”
Pulling on their socks, boots and fatigues, they sauntered toward the latrine.
Emirau, a tiny dot in a sea of vast blue-green monotony, is an island in the Bismark Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. Barely five miles long and three miles wide, this island played an outsized role during Pacific theater of World War 11. Strategically located, the island served first as a Japanese weather station. Then as the Allied offensive moved westward, the station became an outpost, monitoring Allied shipping and aircraft. Emirau was of no particular value to the Americans but they would have to eliminate this enemy outpost. A company of Black infantry embarked to take the island from the fifteen-member Japanese garrison. Advised of the approaching invasion the Japanese prudently left the island.
When MacAuthor’s “Operation Cartwheel” bogged down, Emirau became a landing strip and used as a port, as well as an outpost where Black soldiers kept watch over the Japanese forces that were withering on the vine in New Ireland and New Britain.
After a of year of low intensity fighting to clear Hollandia, Aitapi, Biak and Sansapor of Japanese stragglers, a regiment of the 93rd was eligible for rest and recreation. The Good Book says, “There is no rest for the wicked,” and there was to be no rest for the Black soldiers.
New Zealand and Australia would rather have the Japanese in for brunch than allow the Black soldiers who were protecting them to set foot in their “white man’s country.” As there was no other place for Black GIs to go, the white generals decided to send one of the regiments of the 93rd to Emirau where there was little danger of interracial fighting. Here, the military brass believed, the Black soldiers could rest and recreate, as they put it in official orders, to the fullest extent of their ”Negritude.”
The wartime co-operation between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its height. Cultural groups from the US were touring the USSR and in return, the Soviets sent cultural groups to entertain American soldiers. Many of the Russian entertainers played classical music and the USO had some embarrassing experiences with soldiers not interested in the music, walking out during the performances.
As with most news, the announcement from command that a string quartet was to pay this Black battalion a visit, filtered down through the grapevine until it reached squad tent No. 2. Inside, sitting on their cots, five soldiers gave their lively opinions about this upcoming concert.
“What is this jive? We been eighteen months in the jungle without any entertainment – now they decide to give us a string quartet! Christ, half these guys here are from the Delta – What the hell they going to know about a string quartet?”
“They just messin’ around with us.”
“Why the hell don’t they send Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington or somebody like that?”
“Just what is a string quartet?”
“Well, I’m from the North, and we use string quartets all the time.”
“I didn’t know you were from the North.”
“Well, I’m from North Georgia, and we sometimes get together with a guitar, a bass and a banjo.”
“That ain’t no quartet!”
“O.K. Throw in a fiddle. That makes it a string quartet.”
“That ain’t the kind of string quartet we’re talking about, man. This kind is for playing classical music.”
“What is this classical music?”
“It’s what most people call ‘longhair’ stuff. You know from the old days, over there in Europe—Beethoven and Mozart and all of them.”
The entire battalion, nine hundred infantry men and their four white officers, marched into a kind of makeshift ampitheater surrounded by palms trees, and sat down quietly on long coconut logs. At exactly nineteen hundred hours, as the sun was beginning to set over the water, a young man walked upon the stage, adjusted a violin to his chin, and then played highlights of Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D Major.” A few months before, though unknown to the men, he had played a command performance for President Roosevelt. That night he gave the same performance to a battalion of the 93rd.
He bowed to a prolonged but dignified applause, then left the stage.
Next the announcer introduced, the soprano Agnes Davis, who had sung at King George VI’s coronation and with the Philadelphia Symphony. In a flowing white dress, she walked with poise and pride out to the microphone. She began with a stunning rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Adieu, Forets” from The Maid of Orleans (Jeanne D’Arc). and followed it with songs from Bizet’s Carmen, then she bowed to polite applause and left the stage.
After a short intermission, it was time for the string quartet. Four men walked out and arranged their chairs around a microphone. The soldiers waited in silence. And then, the music burst from their instruments. First a rendition from the romantic Russian composer Borodin filled the air, floating out across the island. After twenty minutes of Haydn and Mozart, they swung into Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.
From the wings, next appeared a Russian ballet group. First the dancers performed a sampling of classical movements and techniques, jumping and twisting about the stage, then to the soldier’s surprise the Russians shifted into folk dancing. When they brought out their swords to perform the saber dance, the men broke into whistles and shouts. With cheers and uproarious applause from the men, the acrobatic dancers responded with zeal and joy, tumbling and diving under their flashing, slashing swords, until it all ended without a drop of blood on the stage.
All the performers, the Russians and Americans, came back on stage to a standing ovation from the soldiers and four officers. Faces beaming, the performers all clasped hands, and bowed as if they were in Carnegie Hall.
Michael McColly’s essays and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Sun, the online blog Humans & Nature, NUVO, and other journals. He is the author of the 2006 Lambda Literary Award-winning memoir, The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism (Soft Skull Press), which chronicles his journey reporting on AIDS activism in Africa, Asia and America. He has also published The World Is Round, which is a collection of college student essays who reflect on immigrating to America. Along with a former student and photographer, Tuong Nguyen, McColly has written and produced a documentary on efforts by social workers in Vietnam who’ve worked with street youth affected by addiction and infected with HIV/AIDS. He has won a Lisagor Journalism Award, Illinois Arts Council award for Prose, Pen America grants, and fellowships from Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, and the Ragdale and MacDowell colonies.