The University of Alabama Press is pleased to announce The Blues Muse: Race, Gender, and Musical Celebrity in American Poetry by Emily Ruth Rutter as the recipient of the 2017 Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Literature.
Awarded annually by UAP’s faculty editorial board to the manuscript chosen as representing outstanding scholarship in the field of American literary studies, the Elizabeth Agee Prize was established by the Stubbs and Agee families to honor longtime Birmingham bookseller Elizabeth Agee who described herself as “a reader and lover of books.”
Rutter’s analysis focuses on five key blues musicians and singers—Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson, and Lead Belly—and traces the ways in which these artists and their personas have been invoked and developed throughout American poetry. She traces the evolution of the poetic invocation of blues muses through a succession of cultural eras, political climates, and artistic movements, asking how and why these protean blues figures change shape both within and across generations. Drawing on the work of poets Langston Hughes, Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka, Harryette Mullen, Terrance Hayes, and many more as a guide, Rutter discusses topics such as the poetic renderings of black struggle, the constantly evolving notions of authenticity, and the portrayal of blues artists as heroic symbols of African American resistance.
Agee Prize committee member Philip Beidler said of the project “From its engaging title onward, Emily Rutter’s The Blues Muse: Race, Gender, and Musical Celebrity in American Poetry, proves itself a model of engaging twenty-first-century scholarship, connecting legendary figures in the Blues musical tradition with innovative modernist poets. Accordingly, in exploring the poetic constructions of blues icons it adventurously explores contemporary relationships of the era in the discourses of race and gender.”
Emily Ruth Rutter is assistant professor of English at Ball State University. She is the author of Invisible Ball of Dreams: Literary Representations of Baseball behind the Color Line.
The Blues Muse will be available from The University of Alabama Press in October.
Recent Winners of the Elizabeth Agee Prize
2016 • Harry Thomas Jr., Sissy! The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture
2015 • Brian Kim Stefans, Word Toys: Poetry and Technics
2014 • Elizabeth Swanstrom, Animal, Vegetable, Digital: Experiments in New Media Aesthetics and Environmental Poetics
2013 • Keith Michael Green, Bound to Respect: Antebellum Narratives of Black Imprisonment, Servitude, and Bondage, 1816–1861
2012 • Co-winners: Trudier Harris, Martin Luther King Jr., Heroism, and African American Literature and Kate Charlton-Jones, Dismembering the American Dream: The Life and Fiction of Richard Yates
2011 • Bruce Barnhart, Jazz in the Time of the Novel: The Temporal Politics of American Race and Culture