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A stirring meditation on Black performance in America from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. A stirring meditation on Black performance in America from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, 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. Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians he loves. 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.


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A stirring meditation on Black performance in America from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. A stirring meditation on Black performance in America from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, 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. Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians he loves. 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.

30 review for A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance

  1. 4 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    These essays are so damn good. The sentences are gorgeous. The arguments are unique. Also he’s writing about music and dance and culture moments in this way thats so rich and evocative. Which I think has gotta be hard. There’s an essay about Merry Clayton & “Gimme Shelter” and how he describes this song we all know gives the whole thing new life and resonance. He sees and lifts the complexity of Blackness. He delves into grief. There’s so much good here.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve Haruch

    If you know, you know. So when I say this book is Hanif doing Hanif things, that means the personal is both the political and the poetic — a lens through which, at a dizzying number of focal lengths, music, pop culture and Blackness look sharper, fresher and more nuanced. A Little Devil in America braids history, criticism and fandom into the kind of book only one person could have written, and as always, I'm so grateful that he did. If you know, you know. So when I say this book is Hanif doing Hanif things, that means the personal is both the political and the poetic — a lens through which, at a dizzying number of focal lengths, music, pop culture and Blackness look sharper, fresher and more nuanced. A Little Devil in America braids history, criticism and fandom into the kind of book only one person could have written, and as always, I'm so grateful that he did.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michelle P.

    “...there is no church like the church of unchained arms being thrown in every direction…” This is my first time reading Hanif Abdurraqib and I am absolutely BLOWN AWAY. I have already added all of Abdurraqib’s collections to my TBR because I need more. A Little Devil in America is an essay collection, a poem, a song, centered around all aspects of Black performance; on the stage, on the screen, in life. This is Abdurraqib’s declaration of love for music, art, his family, his people. The essay ‘Give “...there is no church like the church of unchained arms being thrown in every direction…” This is my first time reading Hanif Abdurraqib and I am absolutely BLOWN AWAY. I have already added all of Abdurraqib’s collections to my TBR because I need more. A Little Devil in America is an essay collection, a poem, a song, centered around all aspects of Black performance; on the stage, on the screen, in life. This is Abdurraqib’s declaration of love for music, art, his family, his people. The essay ‘Give Merry Clayton Her Roses’ left me speechless and listening to Gimme Shelter on repeat for hours; sending chills up and down my spine starting at the 2:48 mark every. single. time. In ‘On Going Home as Performance’, Abdurraqib recalls when Michael Jackson died, Aretha Franklin's Homegoing, his own mother’s Homegoing. From dance marathons to Soul Train, Whitney to Beyoncé, Sammy Davis Jr. to Don Shirley, (I could go on) Abdurraqib gives us a detailed history of Black art and seamlessly weaves it with deep personal reflections from his own life and what it means to be Black in America. Thank you Random House & NetGalley for the e-ARC.

  4. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    and no one knows what to make of this, really. what to do when someone has committed themselves to sympathy, but not to mercy. collecting over twenty pieces essayistic and autobiographical, hanif abdurraqib's new book, a little devil in america, examines, celebrates, and considers the past and present of black performance. whether discoursing on dance marathons, soul train, the queen of soul, al jolson, blackface, whitney houston, "black people in space," josephine baker, don shirley, merry c and no one knows what to make of this, really. what to do when someone has committed themselves to sympathy, but not to mercy. collecting over twenty pieces essayistic and autobiographical, hanif abdurraqib's new book, a little devil in america, examines, celebrates, and considers the past and present of black performance. whether discoursing on dance marathons, soul train, the queen of soul, al jolson, blackface, whitney houston, "black people in space," josephine baker, don shirley, merry clayton, beyoncé, joe tex, wu-tang, afropunk band fuck u pay us, times he's forced himself to dance (or didn't)–or frankly anything at all–hanif's work is always intriguing and insightful. one of the most remarkable elements of hanif's writing is his ability to mine his own past for perspective, while teasing out the nuance of whatever subject he's expounding upon, mingling the personal, the political, and the poignant. i am afraid not of death itself, but of the unknown that comes after. i am afraid not of leaving, but of being forgotten. i am in love today but am afraid that i might not be tomorrow. and that is to say nothing of the bullets, the bombs, the waters rising, and the potential for an apocalypse.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Simply put this collection of essays by Hanif Abdurraqib is spectacular. A five star read so bright, it's blinding. It is unapologetically and blatantly Black. A collection filled with the emotion and vulnerability that African Americans need to express. Part memoir, history book and love letter, A Little Devil in America takes you through Five Movements that are linked by moments of black performance in America and the relationship between then and now. Be prepared to pause while reading so tha Simply put this collection of essays by Hanif Abdurraqib is spectacular. A five star read so bright, it's blinding. It is unapologetically and blatantly Black. A collection filled with the emotion and vulnerability that African Americans need to express. Part memoir, history book and love letter, A Little Devil in America takes you through Five Movements that are linked by moments of black performance in America and the relationship between then and now. Be prepared to pause while reading so that you can Google the images he beautifully describes. I had to witness them for myself and see if I would be as moved as he. Unfamiliar with Mr. Abdurraqib's work, this was a treat to consume and a fitting introduction that will have me reading more of his work. Lastly, I love the cover!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tessimo Mahuta

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Absolute brilliance. Again.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Bollenbacher

    Absolutely incredible, required reading. A worthy successor to They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Absolutely incredible, required reading. A worthy successor to They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

  8. 5 out of 5

    brenda

    If, as Basquiat said, art is how we decorate space and music is how we decorate time, then perhaps writing is how we decorate memory. And no one’s writing does that quite the way Hanif Abdurraqib’s does. His writing somehow feels tangible, words crafted and woven in a such a way as to provoke Stendhal syndrome. Often, I found myself breathless after a sentence, in complete awe of his language. It’s not just that his prose carries the cadence of poetry — “I want, instead, to fill my hands with wha If, as Basquiat said, art is how we decorate space and music is how we decorate time, then perhaps writing is how we decorate memory. And no one’s writing does that quite the way Hanif Abdurraqib’s does. His writing somehow feels tangible, words crafted and woven in a such a way as to provoke Stendhal syndrome. Often, I found myself breathless after a sentence, in complete awe of his language. It’s not just that his prose carries the cadence of poetry — “I want, instead, to fill my hands with whatever beauty I can steal from all of your best moments” —, it’s that it is an experience. His sentences weave moments out of everything that is intangible, and what can also be touched. This one took me a while to read, because I had to savour it, experience it as much as I could. I found myself pausing to listen or watch what Abdurraqib referenced, with reverence; A Little Devil in America gave me memories of moments I hadn’t lived before, like live performances in a time before I was alive, the height of Soul Train, the loud shouts at a massive concert, all through the very personal and intimate lens of Abdurraqib himself. A Little Devil in America is an archive, collected with love and anger and more love. And it is beautiful. Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    Gifted writers can make prose shine like poetry. Abdurraqib is such a writer. Each word feels precisely plucked to convey deep emotions that register the weight of history as well as introspection. He presents individual Black entertainers and discusses their contributions to society and threads each essay with personal anecdotes that display a vulnerability hard-won through deep reflection. From James Brown to Wu Tang Clan, Abdurraqib charts the many debts American culture owes to its most prol Gifted writers can make prose shine like poetry. Abdurraqib is such a writer. Each word feels precisely plucked to convey deep emotions that register the weight of history as well as introspection. He presents individual Black entertainers and discusses their contributions to society and threads each essay with personal anecdotes that display a vulnerability hard-won through deep reflection. From James Brown to Wu Tang Clan, Abdurraqib charts the many debts American culture owes to its most prolific Black artists, and invites the reader to examine what makes them great, and what makes them human. Netgalley provided me with an arc in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Cunningham

    Whew. This book. This book is masquerading as a book of essays, when it is a love letter to a people. It is a song, a poem, and a dance. I ate this book up slowly. Because as much as I wanted to devour it, I knew I would be sad when it was done. So I savoured it like none other. Maybe I’m not telling you about this book the way you’d expect in a review. I don’t really care about that right now. I want you to know this is a book that made me feel the author’s love for music, for art, for family, fo Whew. This book. This book is masquerading as a book of essays, when it is a love letter to a people. It is a song, a poem, and a dance. I ate this book up slowly. Because as much as I wanted to devour it, I knew I would be sad when it was done. So I savoured it like none other. Maybe I’m not telling you about this book the way you’d expect in a review. I don’t really care about that right now. I want you to know this is a book that made me feel the author’s love for music, for art, for family, for people. I want you to read this book to experience the way it’s written. I want you to take a moment to live with this book. This is a book of life, and you don’t know what’s coming in life, you just know you’re alive and it’s happening. That’s how I want you to go into this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Having grown up in a suburb that had literally built a wall to keep city folk (read: Black people) out, the majority of my adolescence was nothing short of monochromatic (and racist). I went to school with few African Americans, those whose families had disregarded the blatant attempts at diverting them elsewhere for the possibility of a more prosperous future for their children. It made for a rather misleading childhood, one practically without any semblance of diversity – and not just sans Bla Having grown up in a suburb that had literally built a wall to keep city folk (read: Black people) out, the majority of my adolescence was nothing short of monochromatic (and racist). I went to school with few African Americans, those whose families had disregarded the blatant attempts at diverting them elsewhere for the possibility of a more prosperous future for their children. It made for a rather misleading childhood, one practically without any semblance of diversity – and not just sans Black folk, but people of color pretty much as a whole. Thankfully I had entertainment to provide me with an unofficial introduction. My upbringing was defined by pop culture vis a vis sports and music, with Lou Whittaker, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jackson and Prince acting as my teachers. These were figures I not only idolized but learned from, for they taught me to both acknowledge and appreciate their existence, their contributions to society, their greatness. I couldn’t have imagined my life without their influence, even if the town I grew up had all but implored its residents to ignore anyone who looked like them. But even then, my consumption of their respective crafts was only scratching the surface of Black performance’s place within our country’s cultural constitution. Television and records only provided broad strokes, the former oftentimes positioning people of color as either “token” or secondary, the latter offering a prepackaged version of the artist so that it’s fit for public (read: White people) consumption. Nowadays I live in an urban landscape rife with color and culture, and I couldn’t be more thankful to be raising my own child in such an environment. And yet she too has been introduced to Black culture by way of entertainment – and this is despite her having already experienced more diversity within her first year of school than I did my first twelve. Much of this was admittedly my own doing; Cecilia was introduced to the aforementioned King of Pop and Purple One before she could even turn over. Mind you, it was not my intention to use MJ and Prince so much to introduce my daughter to people of color as it was to introduce her to entertainment as a whole. That both so happened to be Black was not only coincidence, but hardly taken into consideration. To me, they were vital simply as artists, not just as Black artists. To exclude them from my daughter’s cultural education would be akin to building my own wall, for American culture would be incomplete without Black performance. And while I may be ill-equipped at teaching my daughter the importance of their contribution, we thankfully have Hanif Abdurraqib to pick up the slack. Though “picking up the slack” is a disservice to the writer’s own contributions to American culture, as he is arguably its finest living essayist. I’ve already gone on record with regards to Abdurraqib’s previous two collections – They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us and Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest – and how each demonstrated a seemingly innate and certainly genius ability to make “readers, for lack of a better term, give a shit” about subjects that may be only of moderate interest to them. And while yes, from a macro level I did find Abdurraqib’s predecessors to be wholly interesting, it made me wonder just how transcendent I’d find a collection of his should the subject matter be one of personal interest at a more micro level. Well, luckily for me the writer’s latest collection, A Little Devil in America, is precisely that collection. Though billed as “Notes in Praise of Black Performance” A Little Devil in America is so much more. For the work is a performance in and of itself, the result of an artist at the peak of his powers, an apt demonstration of the very subject matter he is praising. With a poetic grace and pugilist’s precision, Abdurraqib rhapsodically raps on the impact and influence of Black entertainers within American culture, all the while juxtaposing his own personal stories of performance, both big and small. Whether it’s a Depression-era dance marathoner’s subsequent influence on the Soul Train Line, or Aretha Franklin showcasing her ability to direct her final performance even in death, or the “magical negroes” whose greatest trick is to entertain white folks all the while being invisible to them, or Josephine Baker’s assertion that being “a little devil in America” caused her departure for another country, etcetera & etcetera & etcetera, each essay captures a moment in time and defines it by its performers in stunning, provocative fashion. And yet I’m hardly doing the respective parts of A Little Devil in America much justice for I found myself so blown away by it as a whole. The collection is just as much a historical text as it is an homage; it’s both well-researched and elegiacally articulated. But where it truly shines is when Abdurraqib takes over the performance for himself, subtly transcending the transcendent with visionary thought and rhythmic delivery. He’s not necessarily challenging his readers to a dance-off a la Sandman; he’s engaging his audience to the point where they can’t look away. Which is to say for all of the names referenced throughout A Little Devil in America, from Buster Douglas to Beyonce, Merry Clayton to Method Man, none shine brighter than that of Hanif Abdurraqib. He’s the greatest entertainer of them all, emceeing an event as culturally significant as the original Woodstock and the first lunar landing combined. American culture as we know and love it would be incomplete without the contributions of its Black performers. Better still, without works such as A Little Devil in America, American culture as we know and love it would be historically inaccurate. Thankfully we have both.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vincent

    This is unequivocally my favorite Hanif Abdurraqib book. It perfectly combines everything that makes his writing special. For me, Hanif is at his best when he is navigating the intersection of music, emotion, culture, history, race, and his own life. I suppose, you could argue he does that in all of his writing, and to some extent I would agree. However, I'd counter that his other books and essays are not all those things at once like they are here. I adore "They Can't Kills Us Until They Kill U This is unequivocally my favorite Hanif Abdurraqib book. It perfectly combines everything that makes his writing special. For me, Hanif is at his best when he is navigating the intersection of music, emotion, culture, history, race, and his own life. I suppose, you could argue he does that in all of his writing, and to some extent I would agree. However, I'd counter that his other books and essays are not all those things at once like they are here. I adore "They Can't Kills Us Until They Kill Us." It was a book that both validated and changed my feelings of music writing. I believe it to be a rare perfect book. That said, it is divided into 3 parts, although really 2 parts. The first is mostly about bands from many genres (but mostly punk adjacent), their history, and what makes them special to him and others. The second is mostly about being Black in america. Both of these parts have been tremendously important to me since reading. But they do feel a bit isolated from each other. There is intersection, but it isn't the heart of the book necessarily. "Go Ahead in the Rain" is also very good, and starts to more consistently combine the history of Tribe/Rap/Hip Hop, the emotions fandom produces, politics, race, and culture. But, as much as I loved this book I thought the execution was a bit inconsistent. The first third-ish of the book spends a lot of time detail hip hop's genesis is necessary, but frankly a bit boring. It hardly ruins the book, especially because the entire second half is basically perfect and there's still nuggets of really powerful stuff in that first part (specifically the opening commentary on "when rap became political"). Now that I've unnecessarily recounted the history of Hanif's prior books, I'll conclude by saying the issues of inconsistency in various natures discussed above are nowhere to be found in this book. From start to finish, "A Little Devil in America" is something beyond perfection. Hanif's ability to weave through Black History, his life, music, politics, and performance is incredible. I was brought to many emotions as I read this, and I mean that in the best way possible. The Wu Tang essay made me reflect on my own friendships past and present, but mostly past. The Josephine Baker piece educated me and gave me another angle to see through the gentrification. All of the essays made me think about political impulses in life and the importance of nuance and detail, but also the right to just be fucking upset, and also joyful. My expectations for this book were sky high, and they were thoroughly shattered. I am also sitting here looking at the table of contents and trying to pick out my favorite essays, but I think that might be an impossible task. Anyway, read this book

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marco

    Entertainer Stephanie Mills said in 2017: 'They Want R&B But They Don't Want It From Us'. And that has always stuck with me. Far back as Elvis, fan as I am, took from Black music. Jazz, parts of Country are Black music originated. Cowboys were Black and Spanish but that disappears in fictional Westerns. All that to say, "A Little Devil in America" by Hanif Abdurraqib is the most modern historical note on the history, both yesterday and today, of Black culture in the mainstream entertainment indus Entertainer Stephanie Mills said in 2017: 'They Want R&B But They Don't Want It From Us'. And that has always stuck with me. Far back as Elvis, fan as I am, took from Black music. Jazz, parts of Country are Black music originated. Cowboys were Black and Spanish but that disappears in fictional Westerns. All that to say, "A Little Devil in America" by Hanif Abdurraqib is the most modern historical note on the history, both yesterday and today, of Black culture in the mainstream entertainment industry. This book coming 3/30 is effective in its use of poetry and essays to convey what it means to see onesself represented in the world's most popular forms. Beyonce at the Super Bowl, Black Panther attire, performers in unison, referencing their own power. (Did you ever see the SNL sketch on this song where the listener yells, “Maybe it’s not for us!” It is meant for everybody but a localized message.) "Now let's get in formation..." both get in formation, get information. Knowledge is power. Abdurraqib writes this history eloquently, and as a poet himself, poetically. He describes anecdotes of modern Black History from a new generation who still sees the underrepresentation, the limits, the goals, the dreams. Whitney Houston both being a pop star and booed at the Soul Train Music Awards. Octavia Butler and her books that have Black characters and address colorism. About the real 'Green Book' that pointed Black people towards safe travel in the South (because some places you couldn't visit - and still can't - because of prejudice) and the fictional movie which seeks to erase the painful effects of racism by finding just the one duo who somehow overcame it by learning to sit in a car together (same as 'Driving Miss Daisy'). This is popular culture on notice. It's also a historical record tied in to not only historical context but modern with anecdotes both familiar and eye-opening. Grab a copy for sure when it's available. Thanks to Penguin Randomhouse for an early copy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Allie Marini

    *I received this book free in exchange for a fair & honest review * Wow. What a beautiful, heartbreaking, but ultimately joyful explosion of writing. No one, and I mean NO ONE, writes as lovingly, tenderly, and gracefully about music and its impact than Hanif Abdurraqib. Every essay is a rare gem that takes a song you think you know (like the essay about Merry Clayton & “Gimme Shelter”) and makes sure that you will never listen to that song quite the same way again (and that's a GOOD thing.) And *I received this book free in exchange for a fair & honest review * Wow. What a beautiful, heartbreaking, but ultimately joyful explosion of writing. No one, and I mean NO ONE, writes as lovingly, tenderly, and gracefully about music and its impact than Hanif Abdurraqib. Every essay is a rare gem that takes a song you think you know (like the essay about Merry Clayton & “Gimme Shelter”) and makes sure that you will never listen to that song quite the same way again (and that's a GOOD thing.) And it's so important to note that the book focuses as much on Black joy as it does on Black grief, which is part of why Abdurraqib's writing about music is so powerful -- where else but music are joy and grief so inextricably intertwined, in a way that is accessible and provides a common ground for people who are different to understand one another? Because I think that the core of all these essays is how music is part of what you use when words don't suffice, that allows the suffering a way to come out, and that lassos moments of joy in a way that they can always be revisited, at least for the 3 minutes of playtime. These essays are a love letter to music and identity, because the personal is political and the political becomes poetry when Abdurraqib writes about music. For Black readers, I imagine these essays will feel like a homecoming. For white readers, perhaps this is an introduction, and it's one that we need, and that though hard to read at times, is a necessary part of doing the work. But most of all, above all else, this is a glorious collection of essays that show that music is the tool of memory, joy, loss, grief, and hope. If you loved They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, what a gift you have waiting for you in A Little Devil In America.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib Published March 30, 2021 <3 Loved all the lyrical moments within these essays! So well done! <3 At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in Amer A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib Published March 30, 2021 <3 Loved all the lyrical moments within these essays! So well done! <3 At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, 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. Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians he loves. 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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lareign

    "This is one of the biggest tricks of them all. You are burdened with a place, and then, by the time you realize that exit is a possibility, the options for exit can seem distant, or insurmountable. I love Columbus, Ohio, and wince when I speak the name into the air. I apologize for the massive bronze statue pilling its way into the clouds when people come to visit, as if I had put it there myself. I love Columbus, Ohio, and I say this understanding that love would be mapped onto any place that "This is one of the biggest tricks of them all. You are burdened with a place, and then, by the time you realize that exit is a possibility, the options for exit can seem distant, or insurmountable. I love Columbus, Ohio, and wince when I speak the name into the air. I apologize for the massive bronze statue pilling its way into the clouds when people come to visit, as if I had put it there myself. I love Columbus, Ohio, and I say this understanding that love would be mapped onto any place that I hadn't left, or stayed in long enough to build a shrine of memories." I won this book in a giveaway and then it took me more than a month to read it. Actually, it only took a few days, but it took weeks for me to get past the first few chapters. This is my fault, not Hanif Abdurraqib's. The dude can still knock me over with a well-placed sentence or paragraph. My old stomping grounds of Spokane pops up in "Sixteen Ways of Looking at Blackface." That one is one I'll be thinking about for a bit, but not just because he mentions Spokane as a place where "the Black people were so invisible that everyone else would attempt to walk straight through us." The Merry Clayton section had me listening to "Gimme Shelter" at 4 a.m. on my phone and thinking about American violence. I also appreciate the way Abdurraqib can link big things with his own life in a way that doesn't feel forced. "Beyonce Performs at the Super Bowl and I think About All of the Jobs I've Hated" is a great example, though they're all over this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Interesting set of essays from Hanif Abdurraqib about growing up watching reruns of Soul Train and playing spades among other topics. Insights of the late Don Shirley, pianist extraordinaire and the author's take on the movie The Green Book plus Remember The Titans and The Help. Buster Douglas and Mike Tyson. Hanif's description of what the dancers on Soul Train were wearing, their hairstyles and their moves all come alive in his prose. You can actually picture these young people in your minds ey Interesting set of essays from Hanif Abdurraqib about growing up watching reruns of Soul Train and playing spades among other topics. Insights of the late Don Shirley, pianist extraordinaire and the author's take on the movie The Green Book plus Remember The Titans and The Help. Buster Douglas and Mike Tyson. Hanif's description of what the dancers on Soul Train were wearing, their hairstyles and their moves all come alive in his prose. You can actually picture these young people in your minds eye. You can see the TV floating to the ground and breaking when a fight breaks out during a game of spades. Don Shirley working on his psychology dissertation (they didn't talk about that in the movie). Mike Tyson's and Robin Given's body language during the Barbara Walters interview. Hanif picked up on all of this. The belittling of the talented Sammy Davis, Jr. by Frank Sinatra - well I already knew that story but the author expounds a bit more on that sore subject. The Rolling Stones and Merry Clayton, the Rolling Stones and Altamonte and the Hells Angels and the killing of Meredith Hunter. And so much more. Does the author come across as angry in many of his stories. Absolutely. Is he right for that anger? Absolutely. A fast read which many will enjoy and some will just brush off. Be real and put yourself in the author's shoes. Thank you Goodreads for this giveaway.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC of this title. I was already a fan of Hanif Abdurraqib's work - Pitchfork's praise of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us put him onto my radar, and Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest really made me a fan, even when I wasn't familiar with the group he was writing about. A Little Devil in America is a book where I made a note to pick up a physical copy midway through reading the galley so that I could loan it to friends. As its subt Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC of this title. I was already a fan of Hanif Abdurraqib's work - Pitchfork's praise of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us put him onto my radar, and Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest really made me a fan, even when I wasn't familiar with the group he was writing about. A Little Devil in America is a book where I made a note to pick up a physical copy midway through reading the galley so that I could loan it to friends. As its subtitle notes, this is a collection of essays (and the wonderful things Hanif does across his work that aren't quite essays and aren't fully poems either, but are clearly written with a poet's perspective) focusing on different aspects of black performance. This starts with Soul Train lines, does a fantastic detour into the complicated history of blackface, and continues to go so many wonderful places, from Afrofuturism, to Whitney Houston's inability to dance, to the everyday. I finished this and almost immediately wanted to go back to the beginning to read it again.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Callahan Herrig

    I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy of this book, shoutout Goodreads. The book is broken down into five “moments” in which @nifmuhammad showcases Black performance in American culture. His ability to configure personal stories along with musical and cultural analysis is beautiful to read. Weaving together moments over his life with often forgotten about artists who were overshadowed or lost in time. Abdurraqib includes artists and places in time that are known to some, and others you may I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy of this book, shoutout Goodreads. The book is broken down into five “moments” in which @nifmuhammad showcases Black performance in American culture. His ability to configure personal stories along with musical and cultural analysis is beautiful to read. Weaving together moments over his life with often forgotten about artists who were overshadowed or lost in time. Abdurraqib includes artists and places in time that are known to some, and others you may never have heard of. He covers the death of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston at the 1988 Grammy’s, Michael Jackson’s death, and the wonderful Josephine Baker. Through many of these performances and artists he traces how Black artists have changed and adopted American culture. Some of my favorite chapters included the chapter about Merry Clayton. Such a fascinating story about her which he ties in to The Rolling Stones song Gimmie Shelter which she sang on. The chapter about playing spades during a simpler time with his boys. The Wu-Tang chapter hits hard, especially being able to see that sort of rise and fall of such a bonded group. The last chapter hit me hard though, only about 3 pages or so, talking about Hanif breaking down with his brother. It’s powerful, if you have siblings it’ll hit you deep. Loved the book, his prose continues to cut deep, and shout out to the Midwest.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Seigler

    This essay collection by Hanif Abdurraquib examines various moments in Black history, in terms of performance (both for white audiences and for each other). It's an extended look at performers in the public eye like Whitney Houston and the first Black minstrels to apply blackface to their skins (which then was taken up by white performers for more insidious purposes), talking about how the performers caught in the middle were whitewashed until they had to try and reclaim their Blackness in many This essay collection by Hanif Abdurraquib examines various moments in Black history, in terms of performance (both for white audiences and for each other). It's an extended look at performers in the public eye like Whitney Houston and the first Black minstrels to apply blackface to their skins (which then was taken up by white performers for more insidious purposes), talking about how the performers caught in the middle were whitewashed until they had to try and reclaim their Blackness in many cases (or tried to and were denied). Other essays deal with performance on a much smaller scale, such as the violence enacted between males to show love and affection and the ways in which Black punk rock audience members have had to know which spaces were safe for them to engage in, and which could be potentially hostile to their presence. There are meditations on Josephine Baker, who left the United States to find love and fame in France, and who then used her status as an entertainer to spy for the Resistance when the Nazis overran the country in 1940. There's also a look at Merry Clayton, the voice behind the "rape, murder/it's just a shot away" line in the Rolling Stones' landmark song "Gimme Shelter." Abdurraqib is an author who I wasn't familiar with before reading this book, but I'll make sure to keep up with his work from now on.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    I usually hate collections of essays. But I trust my local bookstore, and when this popped out of the Essays section and was set before my eyes on a Staff Pick shelf, I snapped it up. I'm a vocally, rhythmically challenged white woman who loves and appreciates the hell out of music and dance though I can generate neither of a quality that's worthy of admiration. To hear someone else write knowingly of the importance that each can have on us, on performers, on our culture, was a joy. And I'm than I usually hate collections of essays. But I trust my local bookstore, and when this popped out of the Essays section and was set before my eyes on a Staff Pick shelf, I snapped it up. I'm a vocally, rhythmically challenged white woman who loves and appreciates the hell out of music and dance though I can generate neither of a quality that's worthy of admiration. To hear someone else write knowingly of the importance that each can have on us, on performers, on our culture, was a joy. And I'm thankful for what I learned about Black performers I've never heard of (magicians, tap dancers), those I have heard of (how Whitney Houston went through a period of being shunned; more on Josephine Baker), and the ways in which a Black man about my age also navigated the power and joy of art in growing up (and continues to do so). As has been written elsewhere, Abdurraqib is a lyrical, engaging writer. This is what essay collection strive to be--works of observation enhanced by the author's sharing of self, of their own time and experience of their target subject, and the serendipitous connections that they idiosyncratically make (and leave you thinking, afterwards, "Of COURSE! I can't believe I didn't see that." Some passages slide into poetry; others are more straightforward historical rightings (and expandings) of the record; all are honest.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jo Beth

    This is a book not to read through rapidly but to read a section or essay and think about what he is saying. i found myself hooked on the first page which is unusual. He treats his subject with love and clarity. I loved the sections on Aretha Franklin and Josephine Baker who are two women i have greatly admired. I grew up listening to my cheap radio after everyone went to bed so i could listen to Aretha, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and so many more. I loved that era of music. T This is a book not to read through rapidly but to read a section or essay and think about what he is saying. i found myself hooked on the first page which is unusual. He treats his subject with love and clarity. I loved the sections on Aretha Franklin and Josephine Baker who are two women i have greatly admired. I grew up listening to my cheap radio after everyone went to bed so i could listen to Aretha, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and so many more. I loved that era of music. The importance of music and dance in African American funerals is part of the celebration of the departed's life and made so much sense to me. i grew up in a fundamentalist church and was not allowed to dance. It seems that dance is just a natural expression of what is in one's heart and mind. My admiration for the body movement is deep and wistful. His descriptions of the racist machinations of the US are clear and condemning yet not with malice. His love for music and dance comes through with his love for people. i grew up in a very racist place. We as Americans need to deeply think and discuss how to end the scourge especially in the past four years. I would like to thank the author Hanif Abdurraqib and Good reads for this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Sometimes I read a book that's written so well that it makes a review seem kind of irrelevant. "A Little Devil in America" was like that for me. I honestly feel like there's not much I can add to the conversation about this book except to say that it's fantastic. By focusing on Black performance in America, the subjects range from minstrel shows to Whitney Houston and centers on how Black entertainers have shaped our culture. The information is presented in a captivating way (which is sometimes Sometimes I read a book that's written so well that it makes a review seem kind of irrelevant. "A Little Devil in America" was like that for me. I honestly feel like there's not much I can add to the conversation about this book except to say that it's fantastic. By focusing on Black performance in America, the subjects range from minstrel shows to Whitney Houston and centers on how Black entertainers have shaped our culture. The information is presented in a captivating way (which is sometimes lacking in nonfiction books), but it's Abdurraqib's personal reflections that make this book really sing. His frank honesty and the way he views the world made me feel privileged just to read it. Anyone who wants insight into the lives of Blacks in America should check this out. It reminded me of a cross between Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste" and Kiese Laymon's "Heavy" - educational content with a stirring memoir feel. Since I can't do much more than recommend this book, I'll just end this with a thank you to the writer for crafting such an insightful and moving book. *Free ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heidee Howard

    Thanks to Goodreads and the publisher for providing this giveaway copy. When I initially read the book description, I found myself both drawn to its vagueness and cautioned by it. So often books with short, unclear descriptions are such because they're missing something, but that isn't the case here. This book is so much more than a celebration of music and performance and it is so difficult to describe. It is part memoir, part love letter... but that isn't quite right either. I can tell you the Thanks to Goodreads and the publisher for providing this giveaway copy. When I initially read the book description, I found myself both drawn to its vagueness and cautioned by it. So often books with short, unclear descriptions are such because they're missing something, but that isn't the case here. This book is so much more than a celebration of music and performance and it is so difficult to describe. It is part memoir, part love letter... but that isn't quite right either. I can tell you the writing is incredible. I repeatedly annoyed the crap out of my husband while I read him sentences that were structured so perfectly I couldn't move on for minutes. I can tell you that reading this felt like sitting down for drinks with a friend who is far smarter than me, whose mind must be constantly whirring because their every stance is well-considered and structured. I can tell you that as a white woman who grew up only a few years younger than him and only a few miles away, I was repeatedly forced to reflect on my home through different eyes. But I guess what I can mostly tell you is it is a good read, no matter your interest in music or dance or any other kind of performance.

  25. 5 out of 5

    lilias

    goodreads people, you know that feeling, tfw you realize the book you’re reading is one of the best books you’ve ever read. And the only downside is the push and pull of wanting to savor it while wanting to devour it. That’s the feeling I kept having as I read this book. Abdurraqib writes sentences that are so good I dwell on them, and he makes connections that are brilliant. And then the book is over. My admiration for the book keeps going, so here we go. I read Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us U goodreads people, you know that feeling, tfw you realize the book you’re reading is one of the best books you’ve ever read. And the only downside is the push and pull of wanting to savor it while wanting to devour it. That’s the feeling I kept having as I read this book. Abdurraqib writes sentences that are so good I dwell on them, and he makes connections that are brilliant. And then the book is over. My admiration for the book keeps going, so here we go. I read Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us last year and was thrilled to find myself reading a book that would become one of my favorites of 2020, a year in which reading, more than ever, became a vital part of my life. So I couldn’t stop myself from expecting to love this 2021 book, which is so often a situation that leads to disappointment. Not this time. Abdurraqib writes about the impact of music on a cultural scale and on an individual. In doing so, these essays explore the personal and the universal, to a degree. And that degree is crucial as this book is specially, as the title says, “in Praise of Black Performance.” It is deeply emotional, and I feel fortunate to have read it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This is a beautiful book...and painful...and lyrical...and provocative...and thoughtful...and ultimately supremely satisfying. It is a meditation on black performance and on black life in the United States, on the human condition and relationships, on struggle and failure, on success and fame, on life and death. Hanif Abdurraqib has woven musical performance, personal experience and pain, and reflections on the history and experience of blacks in this country into a series of essays organized in This is a beautiful book...and painful...and lyrical...and provocative...and thoughtful...and ultimately supremely satisfying. It is a meditation on black performance and on black life in the United States, on the human condition and relationships, on struggle and failure, on success and fame, on life and death. Hanif Abdurraqib has woven musical performance, personal experience and pain, and reflections on the history and experience of blacks in this country into a series of essays organized into 5 movements. The first four movements are topics related to the theme “On Times I Have Forced Myself to Dance; the final movement is a single topic related to the theme “On Times I Have Forced Myself Not to Dance”. I am too old to recognize some of the musicians or popular culture references - they’re just not part of my life experience - but I found that it really didn’t detract from my understanding of the essays and HA’s perspective on black history and racism in the United States. I also appreciated JD Jackson’s narration.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katy Campbell

    This took me a bit longer than it should have to finish, and I really have no excuse other than a busy work schedule and that I fly through fantasy but really just wanted to live in Abdurraqib's words forever. When describing this book to people to recommend it (30 pages in, that's how fast it grabbed me), I couldn't really settle on an accurate descriptor. A non-fiction book about Black performance in America, both on stage and in every day life? A memoir? A love letter to both his mother, the This took me a bit longer than it should have to finish, and I really have no excuse other than a busy work schedule and that I fly through fantasy but really just wanted to live in Abdurraqib's words forever. When describing this book to people to recommend it (30 pages in, that's how fast it grabbed me), I couldn't really settle on an accurate descriptor. A non-fiction book about Black performance in America, both on stage and in every day life? A memoir? A love letter to both his mother, the Black artists he sees her in and, in deconstructing toxic masculinity and embracing the love he both gives and receives, to his brother and friends? Simply poetry? I guess there's really no accurate way to describe it, other than that it's a work of art. I got the very last copy Semicolon had a few weeks ago, and they told me they were selling like crazy. Get to your local bookstore now and get it. You won't regret it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nuha

    Thank you to Random House & NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy! Available March 3o 2021! "A Little Devil In America" is Hanif Abduqurraqib's latest foray into cultural critique and it is a doozy. Blending the personal and political, art and history, entertainment and critical race theory, Abduquarraqib paints a candid portrait of Black life in America. With a wide range of subjects- anyone from Josphine Baker to Mike Tyson to Don Shirley to his Cleaveland barbershop, Abduqurraqib discusses h Thank you to Random House & NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy! Available March 3o 2021! "A Little Devil In America" is Hanif Abduqurraqib's latest foray into cultural critique and it is a doozy. Blending the personal and political, art and history, entertainment and critical race theory, Abduquarraqib paints a candid portrait of Black life in America. With a wide range of subjects- anyone from Josphine Baker to Mike Tyson to Don Shirley to his Cleaveland barbershop, Abduqurraqib discusses how America both exploits and adores its Black people with a poignant and discerning eye. What I love the most is the Poetic language in this book, it feels very much like a conversation with an eccentric friend, the words flow off the page and land softly in your ear and leave deafening impact in your brain.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Malia

    This book is very interesting to compare to the author's other book of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. That one had so. many incredibly rich, small essays, very poetic, and in this book, the essays have much more room, weaving in and out of topics on the same theme like classical music. At first I missed the compactness of his prior writing, but I came to appreciate these essays in how they could be doing so many things at once, being funny and sad, personal and political, intense This book is very interesting to compare to the author's other book of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. That one had so. many incredibly rich, small essays, very poetic, and in this book, the essays have much more room, weaving in and out of topics on the same theme like classical music. At first I missed the compactness of his prior writing, but I came to appreciate these essays in how they could be doing so many things at once, being funny and sad, personal and political, intensely considered but not overwrought. I often had to stop the book to pull up a youtube video or a song, and I just loved the reading experience. I'll read anything Hanif writes. Highlights were the essays covering Black people in outer space, Josephine Baker, Whitney Houston, and Merry Clayton. ***Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.***

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Wolf

    I have no useful words for the genius of this work. I love Hanif Abdurraqib, I love to watch him read or just hold forth on one of the many, many topics that he seems to have endless knowledge. Reading this book feels like playing witness to him in real-time. Watching him unspool a narrative about Whitney Houston and the way her Blackness was capitalized upon, and torn away from her, or learning us about the backstories of Black performers - tap dancers and singers and magicians - long before I I have no useful words for the genius of this work. I love Hanif Abdurraqib, I love to watch him read or just hold forth on one of the many, many topics that he seems to have endless knowledge. Reading this book feels like playing witness to him in real-time. Watching him unspool a narrative about Whitney Houston and the way her Blackness was capitalized upon, and torn away from her, or learning us about the backstories of Black performers - tap dancers and singers and magicians - long before I was born. It’s one of those books where I already have a half dozen snapshots of paragraphs that made me stop in my tracks, and one of those books that I had to put down and write something of my own, not once but twice, as I made my way through these deeply enmeshed, braided, bountiful essays. Read this book..

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