A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance

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"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.

320 pages. Paperback. 

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, and his essays and criticism have been published in The New Yorker, Pitchfork, The New York Times, and Fader. He is the author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill UsGo Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, and the poetry collections The Crown Ain't Worth Much and A Fortune for Your Disaster. In 2021, he was named a MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellow.