Soundtracks of African American Prose
African American works often include references to music that may or may not be recognized by a wide reading audience. For example, the spirituals that Martin Luther King, Jr. chanted in his speeches provide added rhetorical context for his words; yet those who do not know the songs do not have a more nuanced understanding of his oratory. Langston Hughes and James Baldwin both crafted their writing with music in mind. Baldwin acknowledged in the New York Times Book Review that “I…model myself on jazz musicians and try to write the way they sound.”
Many factors influence song recognition including the music genre, when the author wrote the text, and the availability of the music to its original and subsequent audiences. The music interacts with the prose in which the music is embedded, whether short story, novel, essay, or play. Often, scholars conduct thorough research to bring to light (and sound) the referent music and to interpret how the interaction of the music and prose functions. Their efforts offer an additional, enriching avenue through which readers can engage with the prose and with the music. Papers in this panel offer insights into the interdisciplinary interaction of music and word, the soundtracks of African American prose.