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Jean in blue jacket

About the Author

About the Author

Blackbird Blues is Jean’s debut novel. Before turning to writing fiction, Jean spent eight years as an award-winning reporter and editorial writer at The Milwaukee Journal, covering Children’s Court, City Hall, and Roe v. Wade. She earned a Ph.D. in Human Development at the University of Chicago and trained at a large Chicago inner-city psychiatric hospital. In full-time private practice as a psychologist for thirty years in the Chicago Loop, she saw patients from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. After her husband died of ALS, she edited his last book, Jewish Writing and the Deep Places of the Imagination, stopped publishing in professional psychoanalytic venues, and turned to fiction. She has since remarried and is the mother of a son and a son and daughter by marriage.

Blackbird Blues

Blackbird Blues is a novel of illegal abortion and child abandonment in the 1963 Chicago world of civil rights and interracial jazz. Voices of two women tell their stories: Mary Kaye O’Donnell, an eighteen-year-old Irish-American aspiring jazz singer struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, and the 1940s diary entries of Sister Michaeline, Mary Kaye’s jazz mentor and guide through the bedlam of Mary Kaye’s childhood.


Advance Praise

“A musical coming of age story lies at the heart of Blackbird Blues’ meditation on race, religion, and gender in midwestern America. At a time of personal crisis in the early 1960s, teenaged singer Mary Kaye struggles to free herself from the orbit of an archconservative Catholic family. Caught between the pull of a convent’s regimented life and her discovery of the expressive freedom of jazz, her muse leads her across racial lines in Chicago’s nightclubs, embroiling her in a web of intimate relationships. The story’s surprising twists and turns build steadily to its deeply-affecting climax—like a masterful jazz performance itself. As Blackbird Blues is true to the sounds of jazz, it is true to the sacrifices of love, family, and community made by individuals who find one another in the jazz world.” 

Paul Berliner, Author of Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation