Authors in Conversation | A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA: NOTES IN PRAISE OF BLACK PERFORMANCE by Hanif Abdurraqib in conversation with Rhae Lynn Barnes

April 28, 2021 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
SFPL Zoom Room
Image of Hanif Abdurraqib credit: Megan Leigh Barnard

Museum of the African Diaspora and San Francisco Public Library present

A conversation with poet, essayist, and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib and Princeton University Professor Rhae Lynn Barnes about Abdurraqib’s new publication, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, a stirring meditation on Black Performance in America.

This program will take place on Zoom. Register to receive the zoom link here.

You can purchase signed copies of A Little Devil in America from MoAD’s online bookstore.

Hanif Abdurraqib is a New York Times bestselling poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in PEN American, Muzzle, Vinyl, and other journals. His essays and criticism have been published in The New Yorker, Pitchfork, The New York Times, and Fader. He is the author of the poetry collections, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much and A Fortune for Your Disaster, the essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us and Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest. Abdurraqib was named guest curator at large at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) beginning in January 2021 and is the host of the new SONOS podcast Object of Sound. He is a graduate of Beechcroft High School.

Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University and the leading expert on the history of amateur blackface minstrelsy and its role in the history and legacy of racism. She is a historian, public speaker, writer, editor, documentarian, and onscreen commenter specializing in the globalization of American popular culture. Her research and teaching focus on the histories of racism, the history of white supremacy, racial formation, gender, sexuality, book history, and cultural representation, especially in the American West. Barnes grew up in a white working-class background in a union family and earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley. 

About the Book

A stirring meditation on Black performance in America from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain

“Whether heralding unsung entertainers or reexamining legends, Hanif Abdurraqib weaves together gorgeous essays that reveal the resilience, heartbreak, and joy within Black performance. I read this book breathlessly.”—Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half

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.

This program is presented in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library

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