Jay Jennings

Jay Jennings is a senior editor of the Oxford American. He is the author of Carry the Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of an American City and the editor of Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.
February 16, 2017

Because the house on Durwood Road did not have air-conditioning and because three seasons in Little Rock seem to be mostly summer, Bob Palmer was practicing with his bedroom window open. He sucked on the reed of his Army Band Selmer saxophone and wondered if he might someday sound like Stan Getz on the albums his dad played. No, he’d never sound like Getz, but he didn’t have to. He just had to sound like what he sounded like, and he was still figuring out what that was. He had time. He was only in junior high. His little sister, Dorothy, said he sometimes sounded “like an elephant with its trunk caught in the door. Scree! Scree!” He didn’t mind the comment. It didn’t necessarily sound good, but what did “good” mean? It was sound. And sound was interesting.

September 02, 2016

The Memphis Country Blues Festival had a shoestring start in 1966, organized by the Memphis Country Blues Society, an ad hoc group consisting of counterculture figures, musicians, and fans, including Robert Palmer, who would go on to write the seminal book Deep Blues. His daughter, Augusta Palmer, a Brooklyn filmmaker, is seeking to tell the story of the festival in a documentary called The Blues Society.

August 25, 2013

A conversation with Katrina Whalen, director of I Don't Talk Service No More, a film from the Charles Portis short story. 

“My dad used to throw around a quote from the old John Wayne True Grit. When I was getting too big for my britches, he would say, ‘Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.’ I never had any idea what he was talking about.”

January 27, 2016

A conversation with Cynthia Shearer. I got trained as a fiction writer to shamble in like Moms Mabley asking that the house lights be turned back on because we are not done talking about this or that particular thing. In Fletcher Henderson’s case, we need to pull the camera back a little on that stock scene of the little boy locked in with the piano and get more in the frame.  

June 04, 2015

Among my mother’s effects that I found after her death was a datebook for the year 1944: her diary. An erratic diary keeper myself, I noted the neatness of her initial entry—even lines, full loops in cursive letters, thoughtful punctuation—a common enough trait at the start of a writerly journey, all optimism and hope and clarity, before the messiness of life intrudes.

April 08, 2014
All the main characters in “literature” were from London and New York and St. Petersburg, but the book with the character from Little Rock was the funniest book you’d ever read, including your previous funniest book, Lucky Jim. And because Little Rock is little, your parents lived in the same apartment complex as this writer, and so you had his address.