Book Review: A Little Devil In America
dogtrax, Kevin's Meandering Mind, May 24, 2021
I’d like to once again sing the praises of Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet and writer and podcast host, whose books, stories and essays — such as the ones that connect together in woven magic in his latest book, A Little Devil In America (Notes In Praise of Black Performance) — is insightful, emotional, unexpected and […]

I’d like to once again sing the praises of Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet and writer and podcast host, whose books, stories and essays — such as the ones that connect together in woven magic in his latest book, A Little Devil In America (Notes In Praise of Black Performance) — is insightful, emotional, unexpected and deeply attuned to the well of culture.

As a white, middle-class reader, I admittedly may not be his target audience here, as the world he unveils of Black dance, of Black music, and of family and neighborhood relationships is outside my own field of vision (the fault is mine, and maybe people like me, who too often fail to at least acknowledge the rich tapestry of the Black life beyond hip hop).

Abdurraqib’s expert creative command of language, of theme, and of connecting small parcels of story and history to a larger picture that then, quite suddenly and quite beautifully, narrows back to his own life at the end, in a scene between his brother and himself, is something to behold, and something to celebrate. Some chapters here read like poems and unfold like art.

What makes his perspective so interesting to me is his far-reaching love of music — from his discovery of the punk scene in his native Ohio to the emergence of Wu Tang in New York to a celebration of the artistry of Josephine Baker and Merry Clayton, and way beyond – and how he seamlessly shows how one can love a music, be part of that music scene, and still be separate from it, and how those conflicting elements, driven mostly by race, has long been at the heart of a conflicted America.

By the way, Abdurraqib’s podcast — Object of Sound — is also fantastic, as he chats with many creative artists on a variety of topics, some which resonate with this book and some with his other books. I still have to dig into his poetry, too.

Peace (sounding it out),
Kevin