A project that unravels all modes and methods of black performance, in this moment when black performers are coming to terms with their value, reception, and immense impact on America. Abdurraqib examines how black performance happens in specific moments in time and space--midcentury Paris, the moon, or a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio.
[A] wide, deep, and discerning inquest into the Beauty of Blackness as enacted on stages and screens, in unanimity and discord, on public airwaves and in intimate spaces ... has brought to pop criticism and cultural history not just a poet’s lyricism and imagery but also a scholar’s rigor, a novelist’s sense of character and place, and a punk-rocker’s impulse to dislodge conventional wisdom from its moorings until something shakes loose and is exposed to audiences too lethargic to think or even react differently ... Abdurraqib cherishes this power to enlarge oneself within or beyond real or imagined restrictions ... Abdurraqib reminds readers of the massive viewing audience’s shock and awe over seeing one of the world’s biggest pop icons appearing midfield at this least radical of American rituals ... Something about the seemingly insatiable hunger Abdurraqib shows for cultural transaction, paradoxical mischief, and Beauty in Blackness tells me he’ll get to such matters soon enough.
It's an absolutely brilliant book from a critic who's become one of the country's most essential writers ... Abdurraqib proves to be remarkably gifted at exploring all angles of a topic, linking them in deft and unexpected ways ... It's fascinating to witness Abdurraqib go from place to place and end up somewhere unexpected, but somehow perfect. In one of the most powerful pieces in the book, Abdurraqib reflects on performances of softness, drawing on topics like his mother's death and the Wu-Tang Clan's music video for 'Triumph' ... he's a brilliant writer, but also a deeply generous, loving one. Critics, as Abdurraqib would know, are taught to avoid superlatives, but sometimes there's no other choice. To call Abdurraqib anything less than one of the best writers working in America, and to call this book anything less than a masterpiece, would be doing him, and literature as a whole, a disservice.
... features Hanif Abdurraqib’s considerable talents as a poet, essayist and thoughtful social commentator. Reading this book reminded me of listening to the late night DJs of my youth who used songs as the starting point to improvise a jazz solo of murmured conversation and mellifluous contemplation. Abdurraqib also belongs in the special order of those who magically entwine musicality, voice and narrative in the liminal place between sleep and wakefulness where all is possible, and temporality is fluid ... Stylistically, the repeated title points to the many stories that can be told on the same subject, but it also reflects Abdurraqib’s compelling ability to innovate and riff off the same introductory notes ... Throughout this collection, Abdurraqib underscores the freedom and the power of choosing to be jubilant in the face of pain, oppression, and others’ opinions: the way those young people used their few minutes on the dance line to express themselves in the moment, and through the videos, eternally ... Abdurraqib is especially brilliant at contemplating our humanity through the lens of the arts, and each of these essays has a sonic flair, as if prose can’t contain his innate musicality. Another hallmark is how seamlessly Abdurraqib inserts moving personal experiences into his contemplations of Black life and performance ... Abdurraqib’s book is a dance in literary form; he moves with us and entices us to move toward him, to engage in one of the most intimate of social interaction...sAnd a magnificent partner he is, both leading and leaving enough space for the reader to inhabit the experiences he creates in his exceptionally engaging prose ... Abdurraqib’s fascinating research into historical customs and rituals is deftly married to sometimes achingly personal revelations, yielding a singular poetic rumination about the self and society. He effectively uses popular culture to illustrate the repeated attempts to diminish and outright erase Black people, and, more important, elevate their undeniable contributions to the best of America. He also appropriately calls many of us to account ... After completing this collection what remains in my mind and heart—a beautiful echo—is that subtle yet mighty secondary title, the praise and celebration for Black performers and Blackness overall. There’s much joy in this book, as there is in the lives that Abdurraqib explores, including his own. We need that joy, that celebration, this book.