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'October in the Railroad Earth':Jazz, poetry, fiction and the spoken word

Week 9: ‘October in the Railroad Earth: Jazz, poetry, fiction and the spoken word

How did jazz and blues influence Langston Hughes’ aesthetic vision?

What was the Beats’ philosophy and what role did jazz play in this?

What was ‘spontaneous bop prosody’, and how successful were Ginsberg and Kerouac’s attempts at combining jazz and literature?

Do Kerouac’s spoken word recordings add anything to the original written texts?

What does ‘Sonny’s Blues’ reveal about racism, music and existential suffering?

What are the common tropes that often run through jazz fiction?


Core reading

James Baldwin, ‘Sonny’s Blues’, in Baldwin, Going to Meet the Man (1991 edn.) or Breton (ed.), Hot and Cool: Jazz Short Stories or online

Jack Kerouac reading ‘October in the Railroad Earth’

Jack Kerouac reading ‘MacDougal Street Blues’

(Both taken from the album Kerouac and Steve Allen, Poetry for the Beat Generation (1959))

Alan Ginsberg, ‘Howl’ (1955) available online


Further Reading

Eurodora Welty, ‘Powerhouse’ (1937) in The Collected Stories (Boyars, 1982) or Marcela Breton (ed.), Hot and Cool: Jazz Short Stories (1990) or online

Langston Hughes 'Weary Blues' 1958 video

M. Abel ‘Speeding across the rhizome: Deleuze meets Kerouac on the road’, Modern Fiction Studies, 48/1, 2002, pp. 227–58

James Baldwin, The Invisible Man (1952)

Gordon Ball (ed.), Allen Ginsberg: Journals Mid-Fifties, 1954-8 (1995)

Robert Bennett, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Beats: New Directions in Beat Studies’, College Literature, 32, 2 (Spring 2005) (Jstore)

James Campbell, This is the Beat Generation (1999)

James Campbell, Syncopations: Beats, New Yorkers and Writers in the Dark (2008)

Carolyn Cassady, Off the Road: My years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg (1990)

Leland H Chambers, ‘Improvising and Mythmaking in Eudora Welty’s Powerhouse, in Gabbard, Representing Jazz (Durham, Duke, 1995), pp.54-69

Ann Charters (ed.), The Penguin Book of the Beats (1992)/Portable Beat Reader

Ann Charters (ed.), Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters (1995)

Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Brother Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2010)

Ann Douglas, ‘Holy Fools: The Beat Generation and the Cold War’, Reviews in American History, Volume 41, Number 3, September 2013, pp. 525-532

Roddy Doyle, Oh Play that Thing (2004)

Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz (1991)

Michele Elame (ed) The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (CUP, 2015) See Ch4 on Baldwin [Ebook]

John Clellon Holmes, The Horn (1952)

Krin Gabbard (ed.), Representing Jazz (Durham, Duke 1995)

David Hopkins, ‘To Be or Not to Bop: Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and the culture of bebop and rhythm ’n’ blues’, Popular Music, 25, 2 (2004), pp.279-86.

Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters (1983)

Joyce Johnson, The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac (2012)

Meta DuEwa Jones, The Muse is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word (Urbana, Uni of Illinois Press, 2013)

Interview with Kerouac in 1968

Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)

Philip Larkin, All What Jazz: A Record Diary, 1961-71 (1970)

Lewis MacAdams, Birth of the Cool: Beat, Bebop and the American Avant-Garde (2002)

Manuel Luis Martinez, Countering the counterculture: Rereading postwar dissent from Jack Kerouac to Tomas Rivera (2003) [ebook]

Bill Morgan. The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation. New York: Free Press, 2010.

Toni Morrison, Jazz (1992)

Eric Mortenson, Capturing the beat moment: cultural politics and the poetics of presence (S Illinois UP, 2011)

Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe: a critical biography of Jack Kerouac (1983)

Michael Ondatjee, Coming Through Slaughter (1976)

Richard Quinn, ‘Jack Kerouac, Charlie Parker, and the Poetics of Beat Improvisation’, in Skerl, Reconstructing the Beats [Ebook]

Jonah Raskin, American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation (2005)

David Rife, Jazz Fiction; A History and Comprehensive Reader’s Guide (Lanham, Scarecrow Press, 2008)

Jorge Garcia-Robles, At the end of the road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico (U Minnesota, 2014)

Jennie Skerl (ed.), Reconstructing the Beats (2004) [ebook]

Gordon E. Thompson (ed) Black music, Black poetry : blues and jazz's impact on African American versification (Farnham, Ashgate, 2014)

W. S Tkweme, ‘Blues in Stereo: The Texts of Langston Hughes in Jazz Music’, African American Review, Vol. 42 Issue 3/4, (2008), pp.503-512

Steven Watson, The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944-60 (1995)