"The Whole Root Is Somewhere in the Music": Jazz, Soul, and Literary Influence in James Baldwin and Caryl Phillips

Gerald David Naughton


This article discusses the contemporary British-Caribbean writer Caryl Phillips and the twentieth-century African American writer James Baldwin within a comparative framework that speaks to the expanding issue of international (and transnational) American literary influence. Baldwin has frequently been cited by Phillips as a major literary source, but the nature of this influence can be difficult to frame. The article is interdisciplinary in nature and takes its theoretical framework not from narrative theory, but from music theory. Issues of creative repetition in black music and rhythmic counterpoint in jazz are suggested as models that can be applied to a relationship of literary influence. The article applies these issues to close readings of Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" (1957) and Phillips's In the Falling Snow (2009), focusing on the musical structures, themes, and motifs that permeate both texts.


James Baldwin; Caryl Phillips; Literary Influence; Jazz; Blues; Soul; _In the Falling Snow_; "Sonny's Blues"

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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