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featured artist: Nancy Rawles (ASP 2004)
Nancy Rawles writes books and plays about subjects of concern to her. Her new novel, "My Jim," tells the story of the family of Huckleberry Finn's famous slave character and what happened to them after he escaped. Her first two novels follow a family of Louisiana Creoles striving to negotiate the world of Watts in the era of Reagan. "Love Like Gumbo" received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and "Crawfish Dreams" was selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. She has been fortunate to teach writing for organizations such as Powerful Schools and Seattle Arts and Lectures, and was curator of the 2001 Jack Straw Writers Program. She greatly appreciates the recognition her writing has received from Jack Straw Productions, Artist Trust, City of Seattle, King County, and One Reel. She is currently at work on a novel of historical fiction and mystery set in 1948 Seattle.
l-r: Robert Louis Cooper, Nancy Rawles, Cathy Sims, in a recording session for "My Jim."
From the liner notes for "My Jim: A Companion Piece to the Novel"

I heard music while writing MY JIM. I heard the song "Fore I Sees My Jim" very early on, and I tried to make the language of the book conform to the rhythms of music. After I finished the novel, I asked composers, singers, and musicians to come up with some tunes to accompany a theatrical presentation of the novel.

You'll recognize three well-known spirituals we added to the mix -- "When I Get to Heaven (I Got Shoes)," "Deep River," and "Motherless Child." Included here are a quote from WEB DuBois at the beginning, and an author interview at the end. Carletta Carrington Wilson recorded her searing poem, "Alphabet of the Captured," lending her poet's voice and wisdom to the project. Instrumentals were loaned to us by Bubba Jones on guitar ("Wherever You Are" and "Work Gets Hard") and Robert Louis Cooper ("Sonata") on piano. The other seven pieces were especially created for MY JIM.

We had the benefit of these and other contributions made by many stellar artists working around the country. Ours is a project borne of community, given as an offering.

-Nancy Rawles, February 2005

Listen to an Artscape feature on this project
Listen to
"Fore I Sees
My Jim"
Listen to an excerpt from the staged reading
From the novel My Jim:

This knife old and rusty now. I use to think its my freedom. If I ever gets myself in a real tight bind I always gots my knife. But lifes a real tight bind and aint no easy way out. Every time hard luck happen to me I thinks it can be worse. I aint never understands I been living the worst of it all my life.

Everything I tells you happen long ago. Me I remembers it just like this morning. You want to know bout my things and why I keeps them close to me. I tells you if you listen.

No need to write it down.

About the Project

Between August and October 2004 Nancy Rawles brought a variety of musicians to Jack Straw to record a wide range of music based upon her novel. The resulting collection, though varied, represents not only an interpretation of the novel (itself a new look at Huckleberry Finn), but specifically African American musical styles. The pieces span work song, spiritual, blues, jazz, and ballad, as well as reaching accross European classical and folk genres.

A staged reading at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) on February 26, 2005 was the grand debut of the novel, featuring a preview lecture on slavery, a poetry reading by Carletta Carrington Wilson (included on the album), recorded excerpts of music as interstitial material during the reading, and a reception featuring specially commissioned artworks based on the novel's content and recital performances by the musicians.
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