TRANSNATIONAL JAZZ AND BLUES: AURAL AESTHETICS AND AFRICAN DIASPORIC FICTION
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This dissertation examines the influence of jazz and blues on African Diasporic fiction. While the influences of jazz and blues on African American cultural production have received critical attention for many decades, I contend that literary criticism neglects to recognize that jazz and blues are more than just national forms. They are international forms that have influenced a diverse group of writers and their novels. My work fills gaps in current scholarship by examining well-known and lesser-known novels that depict jazz and blues both within and without American contexts. This international approach is crucial to any examination of jazz, blues, and fiction because it expands our understanding of how authors aim to represent the experiences of African Diasporic people throughout the world.
Building on the work in African American literary criticism and jazz studies, this dissertation examines the varying elements of jazz and blues -- what I refer to as "aural aesthetics" -- that writers incorporate into fiction in order to understand the continued influence of music on African Diasporic fiction. In Chapter One, I contend that Langston Hughes uses the blues as a form of protest in his first published novel Not Without Laughter (1930) to advance critiques of racism and African American involvement in World War I. In Chapter Two, I argue that Ann Petry fills her first novel The Street (1946) with a blues aesthetic that not only undergirds her representations of protest but also responds to the call for the use of vernacular forms in literature. In Chapter Three, I argue that Jackie Kay in Trumpet (1999) and Paule Marshall in The Fisher King (2000) represent the jazz-inflected solo as a means through which their characters build individual identities that challenge notions of an undifferentiated, monolithic African Diaspora. In Chapter Four, I contend that John A. Williams in Clifford's Blues (1999) and Xam Wilson Cartiér in Muse-Echo Blues (1991) present protagonists as composers that use jazz and blues as methods to assert individual African Diasporic identities and to express communal histories that are not present elsewhere in literature.
By providing a critical framework for understanding the influence of jazz and blues in African Diasporic fiction, this project responds directly to criticism that limits the study of jazz and blues to American texts and contexts, calls for a reconsideration of those nationalistic tendencies, and argues for the critical engagement of jazz and blues as forms international in scope.