Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White argues for the blues as a narrative tradition where blues makers invent and reinvent themselves through autobiographical and biographical storytelling.

From the familiar story of Delta Blues musician Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for his guitar virtuosity, to the violent, black Bad Man of the early twentieth-century American imagination—like the mythical figure, Stagolee, who murdered a man over a Stetson hat—the racial myths surrounding “authentic” blues expression are beloved by many blues fans and critics. But far from having ready-made racial and cultural identities, these blues makers have instead fashioned worlds through their own fictionalized autobiographical and biographical storytelling and self-made personas.

Using examples culled from literature and contemporary music—close readings of literary passages, historical and contemporary interviews, live concert performances, music videos, and songs—Kimberly’s book shows how fictional and real-life blues artists create these self-made identities in the works of American writers as disparate as Sherman Alexie, Alice Walker, Walter Mosley, and Albert Murray, and in the music of contemporary acts such as Gary Clark Jr., Rhiannon Giddens, Amy Winehouse, and Jack White.

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