A Little Devil in America
An electrifying celebration of Black performances, cultures and communities in the United States, from the New York Times bestselling poet and critic Hanif Abdurraqib
‘Gorgeous’ – Brit Bennett
‘Pure genius’ – Jacqueline Woodson
‘One of the most dynamic books I have ever read’ – Clint Smith
At the March on Washington, Josephine Baker reflected on her life and her legacy. She had spent decades as one of the most successful entertainers in the world, but, she told the crowd, “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too”. Inspired by these words, Hanif Abdurraqib has written a stirring meditation on Black performance in the modern age, in which culture, history and his own lived experience collide.
With sharp insight, humour and heart, Abdurraqib explores a sequence of iconic and intimate performances that take him from mid-century Paris to the moon — and back down again, to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio. Each one, he shows, has layers of resonance across Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and his own personal history of love and grief — whether it’s the twenty-seven seconds of ‘Gimme Shelter’ in which Merry Clayton sings, or the magnificent hours of Aretha Franklin’s homegoing; Beyonce’s Super Bowl show or a schoolyard fistfight; Dave Chapelle’s skits or a game of spades among friends.
A thoughtful memoir rolled into a set of joined essays on life, death, and the Black experience in America... Social criticism, pop culture, and autobiography come together neatly in these pages, and every sentence is sharp, provocative, and self-aware ... A winner. -- Kirkus Reviews (*starred review*) Abdurraqib uses his inimitable blend of incisive, piercing criticism and shimmering stream-of-consciousness to explore everything from the problem with praising Black women for being "vessels" who have "saved America" with their votes (he points out: "It occurred to me that Black women were simply attempting to save themselves") to Dave Chappelle's appeal to white audiences to the death of his mother. Moving, provocative, and infused with a singular lyricism, A Little Devil in America is an exultant blend of memoir and criticism, a must-read for anyone looking to better understand this country and its people. * Refinery29 * In this staggeringly intimate meditation, Abdurraqib shines a light on how Black artists have shaped-and been shaped by-American culture. His prose is reliably razor-sharp. Filled with nuance and lyricism, Abdurraqib's luminous survey is stunning. * Publishers Weekly (starred review) * Hanif Abdurraqib has a way of taking slices of our cultural landscape, examining them, and transforming them into observations and analyses that leave me underlining the entire page. In A Little Devil In America, Abdurraqib brilliantly braids together history, criticism, and prose so stunning that it makes you want to read every word out loud just so you can hear its music. Everything Abdurraqib writes is a must-read, but this is his best yet. It is one of the most dynamic books I have ever read. -- Clint Smith The most important cultural critic in America right now? This writer gets my vote. Abdurraqib has delivered a winner. * Chicago Tribune * 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 - and basically, in this age of a revolution, this is that ONE book that everyone needs to read. Pure genius. I'm not even 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 * author of Red at the Bone * A rapturous exploration of black genius. Whether heralding unsung entertainers or re-examining 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 * 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 fearless prose, snatches back. This is searing, revelatory, filled with utter heartbreak, and unstoppable joy. -- Marlon James, author of Black Leopard Red Wolf
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