NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • A sweeping, genre-bending “masterpiece” (Minneapolis Star Tribune) exploring Black art, music, and culture in all their glory and complexity—from Soul Train, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Whitney Houston, and Beyoncé
ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Morning News, Publishers Weekly
“Gorgeous essays that reveal the resilience, heartbreak, and joy within Black performance.”—Brit Bennett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half
“I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too.” Inspired by these few words, spoken by Josephine Baker at the 1963 March on Washington, MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow and bestselling author 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 twenty-seven seconds in “Gimme Shelter” in which 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 cultures, the politics of American empire, and Abdurraqib’s own personal history of love, grief, and performance.
Touching on Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Billy Dee Williams, the Wu-Tan Clan, Dave Chappelle, and more, Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain. 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.
WINNER OF THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL AND THE GORDON BURN PRIZE • FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD AND THE PEN/DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL AWARD
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Boston Globe, NPR, Rolling Stone, Esquire, BuzzFeed, Thrillist, She Reads, BookRiot, BookPage, Electric Lit, The Rumpus, LitHub, Library Journal, Booklist
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Through this collection of brilliant essays by Hanif Abdurraqib, explore how Black artists have shaped America. Taking its title from a speech by performer and activist Josephine Baker, this book examines the crucial role that Black musicians and entertainers have played in everything from popular culture to social mores. With heart, humor, and honest descriptions of his own experiences, Abdurraqib digs into everything from Baker’s stirring speech at the 1963 March on Washington to the impact of the TV show Soul Train. We loved how his quicksilver wit and accessible style make each connection both clear and compelling. Abdurraqib will make you contemplate the frustration of Black skin care one minute, and understand (and feel!) the hurt of blackface the next. A Little Devil in America is packed full of food for thought—and reasons to rejoice.
In this staggeringly intimate meditation, essayist and poet Abdurraqib (Go Ahead in the Rain), chronicles Black performance in American culture. Broken into five "movements" consisting of essays, fragments, and prose poems, Abdurraqib weaves cultural analyses with personal stories. "On the Certain and Uncertain Movement of Limbs" captures Whitney Houston's performance at the 1988 Grammy Awards ("And I will tell you what I know, and what I know is that Whitney Houston could not dance"). In "On Going Home as Performance," Abdurraqib commemorates Michael Jackson on the night of his death in a club where "there wasn't enough space for the bodies to do anything except dance." Abdurraqib shines a light on how Black artists have shaped—and been shaped by—American culture: he outlines Josephine Baker's life as a performer and a spy, and examines the "magical negro" trope and "the laughter of white people" through performances by Dave Chappelle and magician Ellen Armstrong. Abdurraqib addresses his commentary to readers both alive and dead, referring to "my dearest dancing ancestors," "magically endowed problem solvers," the "non-Black reader or scholar of history," and a "dearly departed band of brothers," and his prose is reliably razor-sharp. Filled with nuance and lyricism, Abdurraqib's luminous survey is stunning.
This is the 2nd book of Abdurraqib’s that I have read. I was such a fan I knew I had to come back for more. This book was more than I expected. What an absolute delight reading it was. The reader gets a VIP ‘behind the scenes’ look at some really pivotal and important moments in Black history and pop culture. I was so intrigued with each and every story I literally could not put the book down. With the gimme shelter performances, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston any reader could find a story they’re interested in or could relate to. The author does such a good job engaging the reader and making the book impossible to put down. Love, heartbreak, fame.. what does this book have that you couldn’t love? 5 stars all around.