LIVIN' THE BLUES: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet by Frank Marshall Davis

LIVIN' THE BLUES: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet

Email this review


Richly voiced African-American memoir by Davis (1905-87), a journalist-poet who disappeared in 1948 and became known as the ""mystery poet."" This memoir has been lovingly edited by John Edgar Tidwell (English/Miami University of Ohio) from a variety of manuscripts put together after Davis's death, and it may be expanded if more of his second volume, That Incredible Waikiki Jungle, is ever found. In the one surviving Waikiki section, included here, Davis describes two trips he made to the mainland, in 1973 and '74, to give poetry readings after having spent 25 years in Hawaii. He found the relaxation of Jim Crow racism and the widespread miscegenation in Atlanta--where he'd edited the Atlanta World in the late 1930's--quite amazing. The two outstanding qualities here are Davis's writing voice, with its throaty, soft comet style nicely jazzed up with ""broads"" and ""chicks"" and ""foxes,"" and the history of his inferiority complex, which was too deep to overcome psychically, although socially he found himself free and equal (for the most part) in Hawaii. Big, tall, and handsome, Davis was often mistaken--even by blacks--for world heavyweight-champion Joe Louis. He first heard the blues in his hometown, Arkansas City, Kansas, ""a yawn town fifty miles south of Wichita, five miles north of Oklahoma, and east and west of nowhere worth remembering,"" where he was often the lone black student in his grade and where he graduated ""magna cum laude in bitterness."" The blues became his blood, and he became a jazz critic, reporter, and editor for several African-American newspapers and was active in the civil-rights movement. His ""disappearance"" to Hawaii with his white wife in 1948 in no way lessened his activism. A lost reputation rises from the dead and adds a fearless new voice to the black Renaissance.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
Page count: 373pp
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin Press