By Tyehimba Jess
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
ISBN# 9781940696201 (7x10 224pp, paperback)
ISBN# 9781940696225 (7x10 224pp, limited edition hardcover)
With ambitious manipulations of poetic forms, Tyehimba Jess presents the sweat and story behind America’s blues, worksongs and church hymns. Part fact, part fiction, Jess's much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.
2016 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for poetry
2017 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award finalist
2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award finalist
Named a top poetry book of spring 2016 by Library Journal
Tyehimba Jess’s second book, Olio, is a book without rules, blues on the page. It weaves new and reimagined facts with poetry, prose, and biographies of first-generation freed slaves who performed in minstrel shows. A spellbinding and lyrical melange of verse, Olio resembles its namesake—a minstrel show’s hodgepodge variety act that later evolved into Vaudeville, “the heart of American show business.”
Tom Griffen, Tupelo Quarterly
Olio is one of the most inventive, intensive poetic undertakings of the past decade…Through photos, drawings, interviews, foldouts, tables, facts, fictions, and yes, so many strong poems … Olio assembles and raises the voices of an essential chorus: “Listen to how we sing while we/ promises unto ourselves not to die.”
The Boston Globe
Encyclopedic, ingenious, and abundant, this outsized second volume from Jess (Leadbelly) celebrates the works and lives of African-American musicians, artists, and orators who predated the Harlem Renaissance.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
It's been a decade since Tyehimba Jess's debut, and this sprawling, extraordinary book shows he's used his time well...
Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR.org
An elegant, ingenious tour de force.
Walter Muyumba, Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors
The book is a formal tour de force.
Olio works as much as an art book as it does as a book of poems. A reader has to feel his or her way around inside it, break it in, and even break it to read it right.
Joshua Jones, The Live Oak Review
In a lightning-strike act of blending historical research and imagination, Jess's poems range from the post-Civil War era to World War I to vivify mostly undocumented and underappreciated musicians, from the pianist Blind Tom to the Fisk Jubilee Singers to Scott Joplin...Highly recommended; this formally risky collection proves to be a character-rich, historically informed page-turner.
Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (starred review)
Tyehimba Jess has always been vital to the archiving of black performance, and black performers. In his new collection, Olio, Jess continues this tradition.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, The Rumpus
The content of this book really is a remarkable one...Tyehimba Jess gathers the histories of the lives—untold lives of many of the African-American artists who sort of built the blues and jazz and the sound that...we consider quintessentially American. And he's written these poems as history in a variety of voices, in a chorus.
Tess Taylor, All Things Considered on NPR
Historical personae has long proven to be a useful protest tool against oppression, and is, for this reason, not new to African-American poetry. Olio, though, is so ambitious, so relentless in its pursuit of the antebellum realities that remade our country, with its entrance into the canon we are jolted awake by a hundred alarms, a century’s racket.
Kaveh Akbar, Oxford American
The arc of its moral universe bends toward justice… it is not stated baldly but emerges from the performance itself, accumulating in all the small gestures and surprises and flourishes, gathering force, bit by bit, until the song has ended and you find yourself applauding or stunned into silence, ready to listen again.
Scott Borchert, Hyperallergic
…[T]he variety that Tyehimba Jess packs into Olio amply supports his goals of celebrating African-American musicial genius and bearing "wit-ness" (in the dual sense of affirming truth and acknowledging intelligence and agency) to "first generation freed voices," especially those of never recorded nineteenth-century artists. At 235 pages, Olio is so plentiful it is impossible to read in one sitting. Not only does its format invite browsing, but Jess encourages readers to "weave your own chosen way between the voices."
Meg Schoerke, The Hudson Review
Once I closed these pages I came to the conclusion that Tyehimba is our Langston—not necessarily in terms of style or lyrical sensibility, but in terms of proficiency and historical impact. It is the rigor with which this book archives history, offers new narratives and context for the “characters” it contains that leads me to the conclusion that readers a century from now will count this among the treasures that are emblematic of this era.
Shani Jamila, African Voices
Tyehimba Jess, in his encyclopedic new collection, Olio, describes a different form of the literatus, one that went largely unnoticed in Whitman’s time. Rather than describing the centrifugal—white and male—literatus of Whitman and Emerson, Olio recounts the largely undocumented lives of African American performers from the turn of the 20th Century. Olio offers the testaments of the hidden literatuses that America never knew...These are not the archetypal poems that Whitman tried to foresee, and yet they are the broken and hidden backbone of the American democratic story.
Max Heidelberger, Ghost City Review
No matter where you begin reading, the poems make sense. If you read them down the left side of the page, you get Millie’s story; down the right side? Christine’s. Read the poems straight across, and the two voices form a duet. If Jess had written one inventive poem of that stripe it would be an achievement, but that is just a small sliver of the originality you will encounter in this 200-page book.
Kelly Fondon, Michigan Radio
Detroit native Tyehimba Jess’ first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.” Olio, his second collection, was published by Wave Books in April 2016 and was named a finalist for the National Books Critics Circle Award, PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU alumnus, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a 2004-2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000 – 2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He exhibited his poetry at the 2011 TEDxNashville Conference. Jess is an Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island.
Jess' fiction and poetry have appeared in anthologies such as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Power Lines: Ten Years of Poetry from Chicago's Guild Complex, Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry. His poetry has appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review, Brilliant Corners, Ploughshares, Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora, Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, Mosaic, American Poetry Review, Indiana Review, Nashville Review and 580 Split.
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