Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: A Little Devil in America (Hanif Abdurraqib)

In Praise of Black Performance indeed!

★★★★★ – CALSPIE 10.00

Title: A Little Devil in America
Author: Hanif Abdurraqib
J D Jackson
 Non-Fiction / Cultural / Music / Memoir
First published: 2021
Edition: Audio & Paperback, published by Penguin Books in 2022

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.


Going into this one I already knew how much I loved Hanif’s writing and the way he expresses himself. In They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us I found a book that expressed a passion for music and culture that I recognised, and I fell in love with it.

This one was no different in that sense, the author’s passion for his subjects shines through and is what I love. But this one digs even deeper into his personal story. This story is about music, about culture, about American history and about being Black and yes, it is an incredible read.

He talks about cultural changes and artists you know about and some you won’t, but every chapter felt relevant and important. I also always love his stream of consciousness chapters, which almost feel like intervals and yet fit so well into the narrative as a cohesive whole.

Hanif puts not just a looking glass, but also a kaleidoscope of passion to look at Blackness not just in culture, but in every day life, every day experiences, whilst also dealing with grief and love and relationships and putting a warm spotlight on people remembered and people who were forgotten, but should have been remembered.

Few authors express themselves as well and as beautifully as Hanif Abdurraqib does and this book cemented him firmly as one of my favourite non-fiction writers, though I would also highly recommend his poetry. I will be pulling a lot of quotes from this book in the days, months, years to come. Too often there were whole pages I want to remember, so this is definitely one to return to, and often!

I also found myself listening to a whole lot of music thanks to this book and I love it, especially since now I know a bit more of the backstory to some of these artists.

I highly, HIGHLY, recommend this one. It’s fantastic. I will read anything he writes.

5 out of 5 stars


CALSPIE*: 10.00 (Yes! A Perfect score!)

  • Characters: 10
  • Ambience: 10
  • Language: 10
  • Story: 10
  • Pacing: 10
  • Interest: 10
  • Enjoyment: 10

*CALSPIE is designed for fiction, but I can roughly apply it to non-fiction books. I think of characters as subject. Ambience as the tone of the book. Story as the explanation. Pacing as the length and depth to which it goes into the subjects.


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2 thoughts on “(audio) Book Thoughts: A Little Devil in America (Hanif Abdurraqib)

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