Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Adam Gussow

Second Advisor

Anthony Bolden


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



“Rambling Blues: Mapping Contemporary North American Blues Literature” revises the methodological assumptions that have underwritten our understanding of blues literature and the politics of race and region that surround it. Where previous commentators have defined blues literature primarily through its formal and thematic connections with blues music and with the sociohistorical contours of black southern life more generally this dissertation expands the boundaries of how we conceive blues literature by examining Langston Hughes’ poems “The Weary Blues” (1925) and “Po Boy Blues” (1926) August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones (2011) James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods (2015) Kiese Laymon’s Long Division (2013) Joy Harjo’s “Everybody Has a Heartache: A Blues” (2014) Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues (1995) Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me (1994) Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Bootlegger Blues (1991) The Baby Blues (1999) The Buz’Gem Blues (2002) The Berlin Blues (2007) and Cerulean Blue (2015) and George Elliott Clarke’s Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (1983) and Whylah Falls (1990). In contemporary African American literature the blues through representations of music musicians and aesthetics enables a cross-generational connection that focuses on how precarity in the wake of slavery and its afterlives continue to plague black working-class communities; the blues in contemporary African American literature animates a cultural memory. Understanding the development of the blues as a form of cultural remembering as well as an idiom of resistance and self-expression provides an important critical framework to articulate the allure of the blues for Indigenous and African-Canadian writers. What develops across these multiple voices are representations of the blues as a musical form a way of reckoning with personal and collective pain an expressive mode of resistance and a means of articulating socio-economic precarity in the wake of slavery and settler colonialism. Ranging from the US Deep South and Indigenous reservations to black Nova Scotia Canada this dissertation provides a remapped understanding of blues writing outlines the debt English North American literature owes to African American culture and articulates the blues as a contemporary and global form of expression that resists cultural and social elision.



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