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A Little Devil in America Reviews

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Little Devil in America

In Praise of Black Performance

Hanif Abdurraqib

Score pending

1 review

Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 30 Mar 2021
ISBN: 9780241503577

An electrifying celebration of Black performances, cultures and communities in the United States, from the New York Times bestselling poet and critic Hanif Abdurraqib

4 stars out of 5
23 Apr 2021

"a freewheeling collection of essays explores black culture in the US"

Like the rest of the book, the essay on blackface makes use of confessional autobiography: Abdurraqib recounts a dream in which he tries to drown Al Jolson, that most famous blackface performer, in a bathtub. Elsewhere, he writes of his own mother’s death, his relationships with friends, his different jobs. He excavates images from his life with staying power, such as his father returning from work and “sitting in [their] driveway with the windows up on [their] old van, letting loud jazz fill the car’s interior for a few moments before exiting”. Or his attempt to moonwalk as a child, accidentally falling down the stairs at the Islamic Centre. In these scenes, Abdurraqib is not defaulting to the first-person: there is just no neat separation between his object of study and himself, between those who perform and those for whom the performance is made.