Olio, by Tyehimba Jess
-Pulitzer Prize in Poetry 2017
-Anisfield-Wolf Award in Poetry
-Society of Midland Authors Award in Poetry
-Black Caucus of American Library Association Outstanding
Contribution to Publishing Citation
This collection begins with a definition of the term Olio.
a. a miscellaneous mixture of heterogeneous elements; hodgepodge
b. a miscellaneous collection (as of literary or musical selections)
also: the second part of a minstrel show which featured a variety of performance acts and later evolved into vaudeville.
Olio is a beautiful collection of real and imagined songs, poems, and narratives of African American performers from different periods of time. Like you would have a cast of characters listed before a play, Jess lists out these performers for the reader before the collection begins. From familiar names such as Booker T. Washington, to unfamiliar (to me) names like “Blind” Tom Wiggins, this collection brings together many important and unheard creative minds for the reader to become familiar with.
It was important for me to read this collection, in this current time, to realize how marginalized and unacknowledged a lot of African American creatives were during the late 1800s and early 1900s. (And it is certainly happening today.)
While the arc of the collection is a bit of a hodgepodge, as the title suggests, for me this collection was all about awareness. Tapping in to a culture and time much different than my own to see what it was that I could learn.
My favorite selection from Olio was “Jubilee Blues”, p. 12