Author Playlists

Alexis De Veaux’s Playlist for Her Book “JesusDevil”

“I think this playlist speaks to the varied ways in which JesusDevil, The Parables mirrors how black spiritual practices are affirmed in an anti-black culture.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Alexis De Veaux has named the style of writing in her book JesusDevil “afiction,” but I call it magic. JesusDevil is powerful, innovatively told, and unforgettable.

Sharon Bridgworth wrote of the book:

“In this timely work, Alexis weaves through and beyond the many ways that a parable can live. She speaks of viruses, sheltering in and folks losing their sense of taste in stories where the dead rise, slay, shake themselves loose and rumble us with their sexy. In this afiction, ancient beings from the future take us down and up roads that can only be detailed in a structure that defies naming. Once again, Alexis has written a book of holy queer, new possibilities. Get ready to open, pause, and wonder.”

In her own words, here is Alexis De Veaux’s Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection JesusDevil:

These songs are always in my head, in my body. I can remember the times when I first heard each of them, who I was with, how that first hearing made me feel. I can taste these songs, and have, in good times and in the not-so-good. These musics are metaphors for sonic memory. So this playlist is a metaphor for the multiple languages in and of JesusDevil, The Parables– including a language of what the reader hears; a language of what the reader sees; and a language of what the reader feels. I think this playlist speaks to the varied ways in which JesusDevil, The Parables mirrors how black spiritual practices are affirmed in an anti-black culture.

Nina Simone: “Mississippi Goddam”

Lest we forget, the struggle for black freedom in America, in particular, is over four hundred years old. This is an excruciating fact of black life here. Though Nina Simone’s music is associated with the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, this song stands as a reminder not only of what black people have endured but of our right to say, no more.

Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys: “Empire State of Mind”

This is my jam. No matter where else I might live, I’m a stone cold New Yorker born and raised in Harlem; when Harlem was a ghetto and the ghetto was the hood. Whenever I study the aesthetics defining this video- the black and white that shapes the glittering night of it, Alicia Keys’s black leather outfit and Jay Z’s all black look- whenever I hear Jay Z and Alicia Keys raising up New York in this song, I’m reminded that I come from black southern and Caribbean people who dreamed themselves in this place, struggled to and did make this city their own. And I’m inspired. I’m inspired.

Lauryn Hill: “Everything Is Everything”

This song is so black, full of struggle and promise. When I say it’s black I mean it’s living on its own terms while deeply situated in that struggle and promise. I strive to write like that, and I think JesusDevil, The Parables is the kind of book that resonates with this sense of the sonic embedded in the work. At the same time, there is something deeply existential about its conception of time and agency and loss and persistence.

Miles Davis: “Kind of Blue”

I play this whole album whenever I want to feel classic. Miles Davis recorded it in a studio in 1959, when he led a sextet that included John Coltrane on saxophone. I feel like I am in a room with the two of them, listening to the conversation between their solos and improvisations. I have learned so much about love and black bodies from this album.

Mary Lou Williams: “Zoning”

I met Mary Lou Williams in 1980, about a year before she passed away. Talking and spending time with her I came to understand that she was not only a pianist but an arranger and a composer. She was a jazz great, a legend, and she insisted on a presence in jazz at a time when most women were considered singers, primarily. Throughout her career she played with just about every well-known male jazz musician. She modeled what it felt like to be gifted and black and female. This was the first album of hers I acquired.

Sylvester: “Mighty Real”

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, this song was an anthem. Sylvester was a pioneer, a divine spirit. To hear him sing this song, to sing along with it and dance to it was to become as close to freedom as could be queerly imagined in this country back then. It will always remain an anthem of the possible for me.

Rebirth Brass Band: “Why You Worried Bout Me?”

I wrote several of the parables while living in New Orleans where I ultimately finished the manuscript. Brass band music, second lines threading through neighborhoods, shrimp and grits, Black Indians, crab, black people on horseback riding through the city’s streets, Big Freedia and more- were part of my everyday and became the soul track for JesusDevil, The Parables; especially as the everyday invited me to celebrate not who is queer but what is queer. There’s no three ways about it- New Orleans is an African city.

Bob Marley and The Wailers: “Get Up Stand Up:”

Like the song, much of this work is about standing up for our rights, not begging for them. When it came out in the 1970s, it was one of the first reggae songs I heard. It mirrored then, as it does now, that, as Bob Marley says, we are “sick and tired of [the white supremacist] ism-schism game.” The question for us, in the twenty-first century, after more than four hundred years of this black life in the so-called “new world,” is, as Fhill suggests in the book, how are we going to make the idea of freedom legible?

Stevie Wonder: “As”

This is one of my favorite love songs. Whether it’s self-love, intimate love, familial love or love for one’s chosen tribe/community, or friendship love, I find the human emotion we call love to be as mysterious as the universe. I think this song is about a present future of love. The idea of what we call the present and what we call the future is fused in my work.

Alexis De Veaux is a black queer feminist independent scholar whose internationally known work is published in six languages. She has been publishing fiction, poetry, plays, memoirs and children’s lit since 1973, and her work is anthologized in numerous collections. A writer for Essence Magazine for twelve years, Alexis is the recipient of many honors and awards, Alexis penned Warrior Poet, the first biography of the late lesbian poet activist, Audre Lorde; and was tenured faculty at the University at Buffalo, Department of Women’s Studies, for more than twenty years, mentoring a new generation of interdisciplinary scholars of black, feminist, and queer studies.

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