Celestial Jukebox

By Cynthia Shearer

Issue 111, Winter 2020

November 10, 2020

Illustration by Three Ring Studio

It all seems so quaint now, the idea that a Rock-Ola jukebox could be a core sample of human philosophies on the menu in Mississippi. I came to the blues of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside when I was curator of Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak, playing their juke-joint tracks loud when the tourists were gone, inside that old drafty house where he had forbidden his daughter Jill as a teenager to have a record player. I started my novel about Mississippi music in the late ’90s about the time the first federal immigration judge ever to be posted to Memphis, Charles Pazar, wandered into the home and he told me that people had no idea of the volume of immigration from Mauritania, an African country where slavery was still slightly legal. They were settling in the Delta, he said, working hard in the casinos. One of my first thoughts was of the potential this had to influence American blues, and I was excited at the prospect. In those years my friend Tom Freeland introduced me to a lot of music. As the late, great Jim Dickinson kept reminding us, world boogie was coming. The first finished piece of my novel, a story called “The Celestial Jukebox,” was published in the Oxford American. When the novel came out, my publisher created CDs as gifts for book reps. These many years later, I have a playlist that contains most of those songs on Spotify, which is the real celestial jukebox.

Cynthia Shearer

Cynthia Shearer is the author of two works of fiction, The Wonder Book of the Air and The Celestial Jukebox. Her work has appeared in such publications as TriQuarterly, The Missouri Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Formerly a curator of William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi, she now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and teaches at Texas Christian University.