The Gilmore Book Club – Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Discussion #1

July 8, 2021

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On Wednesday, July 14 at 7 PM ET, we will meet virtually to discuss Chapters 1 – 17 of Robin D.G. Kelley’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American OriginalParticipants have been emailed a link to the Google Meet. Below you will find the questions we will be discussing at this time.

  1. The first paragraphs of the book describe the similarities and differences of Thelonious and Julius Monk, men who share a last name but have little else in common. It is followed by a chapter about the origins of the white and black Monk family lines. Why do you think Kelley includes this information as an introduction to the life of Thelonious Monk? How does this inform the way in which you view him throughout the rest of the biography?
  2. Kelley lists a number of factors that contributed to Monk’s virtuosity and prowess at the piano throughout the first few chapters of the book. Are there any that you feel influenced his development more than others? Do you think geniuses are born or made, or a combination of both?
  3. For many years, Monk struggled to be noticed or heard by the general public though his contemporaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie “Bird” Parker were becoming famous playing his compositions. Why do you think this was? What effect did Lorraine Lion and Blue Note Records have on his career? Do you think he would have become famous without their guidance?
  4. Kelley says “…in Nellie, [Monk] found his muse” (p. 87), even penning one of most famous pieces, ‘Round Midnight, for her. Describe Thelonious and Nellie’s relationship. How does Thelonious’s career affect their marriage and family life?
  5. Who is “Nica”? What role does she play in the development of Monk’s musical connections and his career?

Want to begin the discussion before our meeting? Check out The Gilmore Book Club Facebook Group!

Need help finding the book? Check out our local partners! Kalamazoo residents can find books at the Kalamazoo Public Library and at This is A Bookstore & Bookbug, while Battle Creek residents can find them at the Willard Library as well as at This is A Bookstore & Bookbug. This is A Bookstore & Bookbug shoppers will receive 10% off one book and 15% off when purchasing all three!

Have any questions? Email our Digital Media Coordinator, Abigail at abrummel@thegilmore.org.

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