Cover image for Livin' the blues memoirs of a Black journalist and poet
Livin' the blues memoirs of a Black journalist and poet
Publication Information:
Madison, Wis. : University of Wisconsin Press, c1992.


Physical Description:
xxxii, 373 p. : ill.
Wisconsin studies in American autobiography
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Material Type
Shelf Number
Ebook XX(1490166.1) 1

On Order



Frank Marshall Davis was a prominent poet, journalist, jazz critic, and civil rights activist on the Chicago and Atlanta scene from the 1920s through 1940s. He was an intimate of Langston Hughes and Richard Wright and an influential editor at the Chicago Evening Bulletin , the Chicago Whip , the Chicago Star , and the Atlanta World . He renounced his writing career in 1948 and moved to Hawaii, forgotten until the Black Arts Movement rediscovered him in the 1960s.

Because of his early self-exile from the literary limelight, Davis's life and work have been shrouded in mystery. Livin' the Blues offers us a chance to rediscover this talented poet and writer and stands as an important example of black autobiography, similar in form, style, and message to those of Langston Hughes and Richard Wright.

"Both a social commentary and intellectual exploration into African American life in the twentieth century."--Charles Vincent, Atlanta History

Reviews 2

Kirkus 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 cornet 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. (Fourteen halftones--not seen.)

Library Journal Review

The memoirs of Frank Marshall Davis (1905-87) offer a fascinating view of early 20th - century America from the perspective of a gifted African American writer. Struggling against the restrictions of racisim, Davis, in his fight for self-esteem, developed a powerful voice as a journalist and a poet. Davis, the journalist, wrote for several major African American newspapers, serving as an advocate for the black voice in both art and society. Davis, the poet, published four volumes of poetry. His love of language and his poetic voice shine through in this creative representation of his life as a blues narrative. Woven into his life story is a vivid portrayal of African American cultural history of the 1930s and 1940s. Using the language of the jazz age, Davis integrates the history of jazz with his own developing sense of racial pride. His autobiography is an important addition to the recovery of significant American voices and belongs in most libraries.-- Judy Solberg, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.