My Reading: James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
from OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
by TOM JENKS

August 2, 2024, marks the centenary of James Baldwin’s birth.
From the editor of Narrative magazine, a personal reading of Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues”—
a gift to readers and writers.
FOR MORE THAN THIRTY-FIVE YEARS Tom Jenks has been rereading and teaching “Sonny’s Blues,” a story of a black algebra teacher learning of his brother’s heroin addiction in 1950s Harlem.

Jenks’s reading of the story follows a scene-by-scene, sometimes line-by-line, discussion of the pattern by which Baldwin indelibly writes “Sonny’s Blues” into the consciousness of readers.

This personal reading of “Sonny’s Blues” provides ongoing observations of the aesthetics underlying Baldwin’s perfect short story, with references to Edward P. Jones (whose magnificent story “All Aunt Hagar’s Children” bears a knowing relationship to “Sonny’s Blues”), to Charlie Parker’s music, and to Billie Holiday’s “Am I Blue?” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” as part of the musical progression Baldwin creates, and with attention to Baldwin’s oratorical gifts and the biblical references in the story, to its time structure, characterizations, dramatic action, and, most of all, its totality of effect.

Drawing on Baldwin’s book-length essay The Fire Next Time, which Baldwin published a half dozen years after the publication of the short story, Jenks offers insight on some of the sources in Baldwin’s life for “Sonny’s Blues” and on the logic and passion by which life may be meaningfully transformed into art.


AVAILABLE IN THE UK ON AUG. 1, AND IN THE US ON NOV. 1.
Hardcover, 160 Pages, 8.5 x 5.3 inches
Price:   $24.99 US    £18.99 UK
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