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English professor Tim Ryan pens book on Faulkner, blues music

January 12, 2015

Book cover of “Yoknapatawpha Blues: Faulkner’s Fiction and Southern Roots Music”During the 1920s and 1930s, Mississippi produced two of the most significant influences on 20th century culture: the modernist fiction of William Faulkner and the recorded blues songs of African-American musicians such as Charley Patton, Geeshie Wiley and Robert Johnson.

In “Yoknapatawpha Blues: Faulkner’s Fiction and Southern Roots Music,” the first book examining both Faulkner and the music of the south, NIU Department of English associate professor Tim A. Ryan identifies provocative parallels of theme and subject in diverse regional genres and texts.

Placing Faulkner’s literary texts and prewar country blues song lyrics on equal footing, Ryan illuminates the meanings of both in new and unexpected ways.

He provides close analysis of:

  • the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 in Faulkner’s “Old Man” and Patton’s “High Water Everywhere”;
  • racial violence in the story “That Evening Sun” and Wiley’s “Last Kind Words Blues”; and
  • male sexual dysfunction in Sanctuary and Johnson’s “Dead Shrimp Blues.”

This interdisciplinary study published by the LSU Press reveals how the characters of Yoknapatawpha County and the protagonists in blues songs similarly strive to assert themselves in a threatening and oppressive world.

By emphasizing the modernism found in blues music and the echoes of black vernacular culture in Faulkner’s writing, Yoknapatawpha Blues elucidates the impact of both Faulkner’s fiction and roots music on the culture of the modern South and of the nation.

Ryan, recipient of the 2013 University Honors Great Professor Award at NIU, is also the author of “Calls and Responses: The American Novel of Slavery Since ‘Gone with the Wind.’ ”