Faber acquires Jackie Kay's portrait of blues singer Bessie Smith

Faber acquires Jackie Kay's portrait of blues singer Bessie Smith

Faber is to publish a biography of the blues singer Bessie Smith by writer and poet Jackie Kay.

Alexa Von Hirshberg acquired world languages rights from Alba Ziegler-Bailey at the Wylie Agency.

Von Hirschberg said: "Jackie Kay on Bessie Smith – could there be a greater combination? Bessie Smith influenced artists from Bob Dylan to Mahalia Jackson to Billie Holiday and was the top-billed artist in the 1920s and 30s, yet there are so few books about her. Jackie Kay’s evocation of Bessie’s life blew me away, and her story and her struggles take on a striking resonance today. I can’t wait to get this book into the hands of readers."

The book details the life of Smith, who was born in Tennessee in 1894, and sang on street corners before making her name in travelling shows. The synopsis describes her journey as "notoriously difficult: she drank pints of ‘bathtub gin’, got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single-handedly fought off a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan."

Kay has been the National Poet of Scotland since 2016 and is the author of a number of works, including The Adoption Papers, Trumpet and Red Dust Road. 

Bessie Smith will be published on 16th February 2021, in hardback and e-book format.