Bessie Smith

Jackie Kay, Author Absolute Press $12.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-899791-70-5
In one of the more interesting volumes in the ""Outlines"" series on gay and lesbian creators, Scottish-born poet and woman of color Kay profiles the great American blues singer, whose life inspired some of the poems in Kay's recent collection of poetry, The Adoption Papers. Although Kay gives fairly short shrift to Smith's lesbianism or bisexuality, she speaks authoritatively as one black woman about another. More a personal impression than a historical work, this book interweaves poems with a repetitive prose style that nonetheless strikes a sincere note. The author relies entirely on secondary sources, such as Chris Albertson's pathbreaking biography Bessie, but disagrees where she feels like it, e.g., about the now-established fact that Smith did not die as a result of racist Southern doctors refusing to treat her after a car accident, as a legend had it. Kay prefers to side with writers like Edward Albee, whose play The Death of Bessie Smith helped promulgate the myth, because even if it didn't happen that way, it could have. The reader is tempted to grant the author this amount of poetic license in an otherwise appealing text. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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