Spiritual, Blues, and Jazz People in African American Fiction

Living in Paradox

  • Author(s): Jimoh, A. Yemisi
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2002-06-07
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $30.00 | Buy Now

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, and revolution.

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.