Kimberly MackFeb 5, 2021
Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White
University of Massachusetts Press 2020
The familiar story of Delta blues musician Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for guitar virtuosity, and the violent stereotypes evoked by legendary blues "bad men" like Stagger Lee undergird the persistent racial myths surrounding "authentic" blues expression.
Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White (University of Massachusetts Press, 2020) unpacks the figure of the American blues performer, moving from early singers such as Ma Rainey and Big Mama Thornton to contemporary musicians such as Amy Winehouse, Rhiannon Giddens, and Jack White to reveal that blues makers have long used their songs, performances, interviews, and writings to invent personas that resist racial, social, economic, and gendered oppression.
Using examples of fictional and real-life blues artists culled from popular music and literary works from writers such as Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, and Sherman Alexie, Kimberly Mack demonstrates that the stories blues musicians construct about their lives (however factually slippery) are inextricably linked to the "primary story" of the narrative blues tradition, in which autobiography fuels musicians' reclamation of power and agency.
Andy Boyd is a playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the playwriting MFA at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Arizona School for the Arts.