Esi Edugyan(pronounced Ed-oo-jin) was born 34 years ago in Calgary, Alberta, the daughter of immigrants from Ghana. Her writing and studies have carried her to Baltimore and Stuttgart, Germany, as well as to residential stints in Finland, Spain, Hungary, Iceland, Scotland and Belgium. Thursday night, Edugyan’s incandescent prose takes her to the stage of the Ohio Theatre in downtown Cleveland, where she will accept this year’s Anisfield-Wolf fiction prize for “Half-Blood Blues.”
I don’t always agree with the jury’s selections, but “Half-Blood Blues” has an intoxicating, conversational swagger that provokes in me a big Amen. Its assured, moving story is set among the fictional Hot-Time Swingers, a six-member jazz band of black, white and mixed-race musicians who play the clubs in Berlin between the world wars.
The title is the name of a recording, three minutes and 33 seconds, that a few players lay down in Paris, just before the Gestapo arrests genius trumpeter Hieronymus Falk in a Paris cafe in June 1940. Back in Berlin, the Nazis have outlawed jazz as degenerate.
Here is how Edugyan describes the pivotal scene:
“These Boots [Germans] was so courteous, so upstage in their behavior, they might’ve been talking about the weather. Nothing like how they’d behaved in Berlin. There was even a weak apology in their gestures, like they was gentlemen at heart, and only rough times forced them to act this way. And this politeness, this quiet civility, it scared me more than outright violence…
Read more: Karen R. Long, Cleveland