Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction
Hanif Abdurraqib’s stirring meditation on Black performance in the modern age, in which culture, history and his own lived experience collide.
A rapturous exploration of Black genius… I read this book breathlessly ~ Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half
Abdurraqib is one of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever read…Every bit of medicine we need right now ~ Jacqueline Woodson, author of Red at the Bone
This is searing, revelatory, filled with utter heartbreak, and unstoppable joy ~ Marlon James, author of Black Leopard Red Wolf
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
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; Beyoncé’s Super Bowl show or a schoolyard fistfight; Dave Chapelle’s skits or a game of spades among friends.