In this book, A. Yemisi Jimoh demonstrates the critical influence
of music on the fiction of various twentieth-century African
American writers. Exploring novels and short stories by Toni
Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin,
Ralph Ellison, and others, Jimoh shows how black musical
traditions--specifically Spirituals, Blues, and Jazz--are used to
shape characterizations and thematic content and to evince ideas,
emotions, and experiences.
The author's analysis situates the literary texts she discusses
within the diverse social energies of their times and locates
important intersections where music, history, politics, and
literature meet. Jimoh carefully distinguishes among the different
musical forms and shows how, in fiction, they are transformed into
rich metaphors. She explains, for example, how characters and
themes drawing on the Spiritual-Gospel tradition de-emphasize human
agency, depicting earthly survival as a transitory state and
heavenly triumph as a victory. By contrast, in Blues fiction,
characters must often negotiate an environment of alienation,
change, and uncertainty in order to achieve a more earthly triumph,
even if that triumph is only survival. Jazz fiction, meanwhile,
goes beyond Blues and Spiritual expressions to explore new realms,
revealing a space for infinite options, radical change, resistance,
This innovative book examines novels that have not previously
received extensive attention, including Albert Murray's Train
Whistle Guitar, Wallace Thurman's The Blacker the Berry, and Ann
Petry's The Street. At the same time, it brings fresh and
intriguing readings to such widely studied works as Ellison's
Invisible Man and Morrison's Sula. Finally, it suggests some
exciting directions for future study as new generations of African
American musicians and writers continue to develop and expand on
established traditions and forms.
The Author: A. Yemisi Jimoh is an associate professor of English at
the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Her articles have
appeared in African American Review, Contemporary African American
Novelists, and other publications.
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