Reading Response: Short Essay Questions for If you Cant be Free, Be a Mystery
Instructions: Read the Preface, Overture, and Part One (pp.11-95), then answer the following questions in whatever length seems appropriate. Type directly on this document and save it before uploading.
1. What inspired the author to write this book?
2. Griffin wants to challenge popular misconceptions of Billie Holiday that she finds stereotypical, reductive, and potentially damaging because they continue to be applied to other black female artists. What are some of these misconceptions about Holiday that Griffin wants to explore, how have they been spread and become taken as truth, and do you believe a “rewriting” of Billie Holiday matters?
3. In Chapter 1, part ii, what were some of the elements of Billie Holiday’s life story that made the biggest impression on you reading this?
4. On page 33, Griffin writes that it is more helpful to view Billie Holiday as someone who was victimized (as a child, and also throughout her life by certain men and by the FBI and the police), instead of as a victim. Do you believe this is a meaningful distinction? Why or why not?
5. How did Billie Holiday’s gender contribute to the “tragic” narrative often told about her life, according to the author (and/or to you, the reader)?
6. In Chapter 3, Griffin compares major magazine articles about Billie Holiday during her lifetime to her own words, taken from a studio recording “Songs and Conversations.” What is the author’s point in this chapter? Listen to parts of “Songs and Conversations to enrich your experience of this part of the book (there is a link in the Billie Holiday folder). (If anyone really want to listen: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIR_To4ljOSqrSVIB38776a-pIdiU6p-d )
Questions related to Part Two, pp. 119-139
7. This chapter examines the different ways that black intellectuals and scholars have understood the significance of Billie Holiday’s music. Compare the way that Amiri Baraka writes about her, and the way she is presented by scholars who follow the lead of Ralph Ellison (pp. 123-128)
8. According to Griffin, in what ways was Billie Holiday’s art political? (pp. 133-139). What do you think about her interpretation of “Billie’s Blues” (pp. 134-139; you can hear the versions she mentions on the YouTube playlist).
9. After reading the Coda (pp.193-200), do you have any final thoughts about Billie Holiday, this book, or this author?