Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet and a culture critic — a writer I will follow anywhere. A Little Devil in America is his most expansive book to date and showcases his usual clarity about the pressures that creative pursuits, personal decisions, historical dictates, dreams deferred, and cultural trends all exert. In his new book, he focuses on the intersection of performance and the Black experience in America. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From Hanif Abdurraqib, the New York Times bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain, comes a stirring meditation on the modes of black performance in America.
At the March On Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was 57 years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech at the march, she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. From those few words, Hanif Abdurraqib has written a profound and lasting reflection on how black performance is inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture. Each moment in every performance he examines — whether it’s the 27 seconds in “Gimme Shelter” where Merry Clayton wails the words “rape, murder,” a schoolyard fistfight, a dance marathon, or the instant in a game of spades right after the cards are dealt — has layers of resonance in black and white culture, the politics of American empire, and Abdurraqib’s own personal history of love, grief, and performance.
Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians who he loves. With care and generosity, he explains the poignancy of performances big and small, each one feeling intensely familiar and vital, both timeless and desperately urgent. Filled with sharp insight, humor, and heart, A Little Devil in America exalts the black performance that unfolds in specific moments in time and space — from midcentury Paris, to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio.
"Hanif Abdurraqib's genius is in pinpointing those moments in American cultural history when Black people made lightning strike. But Black performance, Black artistry, Black freedom too often came at devastating price. The real devil in America is America itself, the one who stole the soul that he, through open eyes and with fearless prose, snatches back. This is searing, revelatory, filled with utter heartbreak, and unstoppable joy." Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
"A rapturous exploration of Black genius... Whether heralding unsung entertainers or reexamining legends, Hanif Abdurraqib weaves together gorgeous essays that reveal the resilience, heartbreak, and joy within Black performance. I read this book breathlessly." Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half
"Abdurraqib is one of the most brilliant writers I've ever read. A Little Devil in America needs to be on every bedside table, every high school and college desktop — in this age of revolution, this is that one book that everyone needs to read. Pure genius. I'm not trying to get at even some of the brilliance Hanif gets to with this book — there is just too much. From Black exceptionalism to Josephine Baker to old heads — he brings it and clarifies it, then shapes it into every bit of medicine we need right now." Jacqueline Woodson
About the Author
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in PEN American, Muzzle, Vinyl, and other journals. His essays and criticism have been published in The New Yorker, Pitchfork, The New York Times, and Fader. His first full length poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize and nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was named a book of the year by NPR, Esquire, BuzzFeed, O: The Oprah Magazine, Pitchfork, Chicago Tribune, among others. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest was a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Critics Circle Award and Kirkus Prize finalist, and longlisted for the National Book Award. His second collection of poems, A Fortune for Your Disaster, won the Lenore Marshall Prize. He is a graduate of Beechcroft High School.