For more than thirty years, Michael Eric Dyson has played a prominent role in the nation as a public intellectual, university professor, cultural critic, social activist and ordained Baptist minister. He has presented a rich and resourceful set of ideas about American history and culture. Now for the first time he brings together the various components of his multihued identity and eclectic pursuits.
In highlighting these seemingly ordinary activities, [Dyson] adroitly alludes to the dire consequences that sometimes accrue from fill-in-the-blank, doing and being 'while Black' ... Pithy openers provide context for the date and original source of each chapter. The only piece of completely new writing is his well-crafted and meaty introductory essay ... Dyson’s work clearly comes from a deep well of love — for his country, for his people and for the intellectual and cultural figures he admires. He includes essays about Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin, for instance, paeans fueled by genuine fandom that are delightful reads because he speaks to these singers’ artistry with authoritative specificity...The same can’t be said of his takes on other art forms, such as photography, film and theater ... By passing up opportunities to apply his critical lens to lesser-known culture makers or to add new insights to older works, Dyson essentially offers up what amounts to a scholarly greatest-hits album ... Known for extemporizing full speeches and sermons without notes, Dyson plays in the space between preacher and poet ... his eulogy for the firebrand poet Amiri Baraka brims with eloquence, insight and deep respect, despite the fact that he was often at odds with Baraka when Baraka was alive ... There is also a stylistic performance taking place within the pages of the book: that of the public Black intellectual demonstrating that he is erudite yet still hip, referencing philosophers and theorists like Kant, Derrida and Foucault while also name-checking rappers like Nas and Jay-Z ... Dyson isn’t known for brevity or restraint. He tends to milk his metaphors for all they are worth, at times layering the wordplay until it becomes one paragraph-long big pun ... would benefit from greater curation and clearer vision. Some sections, such as the transcribed conversations with younger peers and debates with conservative pundits, feel like filler that is only tangentially connected to the book’s theme ... in a truly odd move, Dyson ends his book with a somewhat rambling commencement speech that he gave 25 years ago at the University of North Carolina in support of Generation X’s youth culture ... Still, Dyson’s fans may relish this opportunity to read his early academic papers, in which his literary voice was still forming. They bring into relief those of his more signature style, full of the alliteration and anaphora that mark the best of Black oratory and written word.
... an excellent set of ruminations that examine the resulting pressures and scrutiny of Black entertainment, honor the endurance and beauty of Black artistry, and reach into political history and analysis ... Dyson’s essays and writings address a rich assortment of thought-provoking topics. Separated into sections covering such areas as the arts, religion, notable public speeches, academics, and many more, this volume offers an expansive and accessible overview of the inquiries of an important social and cultural thinker.
... wide-ranging and artfully conceived ... Throughout, Dyson maintains a firm grip on the cultural moment and offers razor-sharp insights into American history, politics, and art. This is a feast of insights.