Part fact, part fiction, Tyehimba Jess's much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.
So, while I lead this choir, I still find that
I'm being led...I'm a missionary
mending my faith in the midst of this flock...
I toil in their fields of praise. When folks see
these freedmen stand and sing, they hear their God
speak in tongues. These nine dark mouths sing shelter;
they echo a hymn's haven from slavery's weather.
Detroit native Tyehimba Jess' first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU Alumni, has received fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team. He exhibited his poetry at the 2011 TEDxNashville Conference. Jess is an Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island.