Prolific Mt. Airy author chronicled mixed-race kids' lives

by Len Lear
Posted 5/9/24

Lise Funderburg, of Mt. Airy, boasts an impressive and extensive resume, full of journalism credits as well as teaching the intricacies of writing.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Prolific Mt. Airy author chronicled mixed-race kids' lives


Lise Funderburg, of Mt. Airy, boasts an impressive and extensive resume, full of journalism credits that include Time, Mademoiselle, and Vogue magazines, as well as teaching the intricacies of writing at the University of Pennsylvania. But it's her groundbreaking book, "Black, White, Other," first published in 1994, that has garnered the most attention.

"Black, White, Other" is an oral history of 46 adult children of interracial marriages, a chronicle that also reflects Funderburg's background. The author's late father was Black. Her mother, Maggie, a resident of Cathedral Village, who formerly lived in Chestnut Hill, is white – and will be 100 years old in May.

“I think our shared vocabulary around race has expanded dramatically since the book came out,” Funderburg said. “Back then, 'Other' was still a common way to describe the mixed-race experience. We now have the words to speak in more complex and nuanced ways about our various ways of walking through the world. We also have more exposure to each other. (Thanks, Internet!) For all the many downsides of social media, it does allow us to experience and celebrate and identify with and understand people outside our own bubbles.”

However, Funderburg wonders if Americans of different racial backgrounds actually want to engage in more discussion with one another. “I’m not sure,” she said. “These days, we see such a feverish separatism coursing through the country, whether it's in political, educational or religious realms. Fear is in competition with connection.”

Funderburg grew up in Powelton Village, near University City, and still meets semi-regularly with her friends from the old neighborhood. “I feel fortunate to have been raised in a place where difference was viewed as normal — appealing, in fact,” she said, “But I have to say, it was a bit of a shock to get out into the world and learn how segregation, physical and relational, is so tightly woven into the fabric of our country, and THAT is the norm.”

A "lifer" at Friends' Central School, Funderburg earned a degree in English literature at Reed College in Oregon and a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University. She is also a certified "Tree Tender," having completed the Philadelphia Horticultural Society course. Funderburg has called Mt. Airy home for almost 28 years, and her sisters, Diane and Margaret Funderburg, have lived in the neighborhood even longer. They are often mistaken for each other when they are out and about.

Funderburg said she loves living in Mt. Airy. “Carpenter’s Woods and the Wissahickon; interesting and quirky people; a conscious collective effort to be a diverse community; living a mere block from the Weavers Way Co-op mothership, in walking distance from my two siblings.”

She also recognizes the challenges our systems and culture present to diversity. "Look at housing prices these days," she said. "On the one hand, my husband and I are getting ready to downsize, and that escalation may elevate our retirement plan when we sell. On the other hand, given enduring racial disparities in wealth in this country, how many wonderful potential neighbors won't have a shot at living here?"

One of the hardest things Funderburg ever had to do was tell her father that he was dying. "Towards the very end of his life, he was not acknowledging how sick he was, that he was in hospice, what hospice meant. I felt no need to redirect him, except that he wanted to go to Georgia, but, in order to go, he needed to understand what the consequences could be," Funderburg said. "It was awful. But we went, and … that was the best decision I ever made, to take on that journey with my sisters (and my incredibly supportive husband). We gave our dad his final wish, that trip, and that is one of the most gratifying experiences I've ever participated in..."

The experience, which Funderburg wrote about in her memoir, 'Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home," provided her with insight into her dad, his background, and the way he navigated his life. She better understood what she described as his "rigid and sometimes harsh" ways of parenting, and being in the world. But she also saw the "pure pleasure" he experienced by being at the farm he had purchased for his retirement.

“'Your daddy loves dirt,' someone once said to me, and when I truly understood that, I started to see past my Northern, urban, civil rights-baby bias against the rural South,” Funderburg said. “I'd grown up thinking of his hometown being solely defined by Jim Crow bigotry, peonage, lynchings and all the daily indignities that Black people there faced. All true, but not the complete picture. Home is home.”

For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at”