Hanif Abdurraqib on Decentering Pain in the Stories of Black Lives
This Week from the Thresholds Podcast with Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
On this episode, Jordan talks to Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, about his writing practice, his faith practice, his work as a critic and essayist, and more.
From the episode:
Hanif Abdurraqib: I did not want the book to be propelled by pain or trauma or grief. I wanted it to be propelled by celebration and an understanding that people’s full lives are more than just what they’ve endured. That’s something that was vital to me, and it made me think about, if I’m offering some tragedy or some trauma—for example, the explicit naming of Don Cornelius’ death—I’m not going to stay on that too long. And I’m going to counter that with some much longer threads about the magic and miracle of Don Cornelius’ living. For me, it was not about hovering on ideas of what was lost as much as it was celebrating ideas of what was and has been and could be. And for me, this was centering in a way because it made sure that I was divesting from the idea that Black life is only appealing or tantalizing if it comes alongside of trauma.
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in PEN American, Muzzle, Vinyl, and other journals, and his essays and criticism have been published in The New Yorker, Pitchfork, The New York Times, and Fader. His first full-length poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer book award and nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us was named a book of the year by NPR, Esquire, BuzzFeed, O: The Oprah Magazine, Pitchfork and Chicago Tribune, among others. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award and Kirkus Prize finalist and was longlisted for the National Book Award. His second collection of poems, A Fortune for Your Disaster, won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. He is a graduate of Beechcroft High School.