A photo of author Hanif Abdurraqib, in a black hoodie, hand on his chin. Photo credit: Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo: Megan Leigh Barnard

There’s very little in the world of culture beyond Hanif Abdurraqib’s intellectual purview: the American cultural critic, poet and essayist has written with equal aplomb about football, Beyoncé and, in verse, the politics of violence. He’s contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Muzzle, and Pitchfork, and written a book about hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest, not to mention poetry and essay collections.

Abdurraqib’s latest book, titled A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance, delves into the history, politics and nuances of Black performance, from marathon running to dancing to Blackface to sitcoms to a deceptively simple card game among friends. Across chapters both personal and political, Abdurraqib explores the way that performance informs culture and vice-versa, from the schoolyard to the Superbowl, in his typically incisive fashion.

Ahead of the release of A Little Devil in America, we Abdurraqib to pick his own recent favourites: films, TV, music and more. Here, Abdurraqib talks about disappointing sports teams, the song he listens to every three days, and how loving the cinema has meant not seeing a film for a whole year.

Film: Downhill

I haven’t watched a movie since the pandemic began, which is maybe a bit wild to say, but it is true. I love the cinema so much – I love the experience of it, I love the ritual and absurdity of it. Cinemas have reopened here, but I don’t really plan on going any time soon. And with that, my desire to watch films has pretty much gone out of the window. The last movie I saw in theatres was this movie Downhill. I didn’t love it, but at the time, I thought I’d get to see something else, sometime after it.

TV: Sunderland ‘Til I Die

I really resonated with Sunderland ‘Til I Die a great deal, just as someone who understands (and is invested in) the many ways heartbreak can appear, or the many ways disappointment can be expected, but not be a barrier when it comes to our affections. Also, as a sports fan with teams that are mostly disappointing, I felt seen. Particularly now, when there are so many higher stakes disappointments, it feels good to be let down by something fleeting.

Music: Radiant Children

This is a tough one for me because I’m immersed in music all of the time, every day. But to pick just a single thing, I will say the Radiant Children song “I Need Love” has been the song that I find myself listening to almost once every three days, just to rejuvenate myself.

Art: Magazine covers

I have been digging through old Black magazine archives lately, which is a type of art, I think. The way covers were presented, and the way layouts were done. But even beyond that, the questions posed within the magazines as reflections of the times and eras. It’s all such a worthwhile experience, for me, to dwell in the past a bit.

Videogame: The Last of Us Part II / NBA2K21

I got really into The Last of Us Part II at the start of the pandemic, and I hope to pick it back up again, but I had to stop playing – I think it was just hard to confront a game set in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by a pandemic. And also, I think the up-close violence was jarring to me in a way that it never was before (and wasn’t when I played the first iteration of the game.) I think this could be a symbol of the fact that I am getting older and even more delicate. But I did love being immersed in the world. For now, I’m just playing a lot of NBA2K21 with my pals.

Podcast: No Dunks

I don’t listen to too many podcasts (not even my own) but I do enjoy staying up on basketball stuff by listening to No Dunks when I cook, or bake, or sometimes when I work out (though I tend to need music there, I occasionally like to hear basketball news, too). It’s a light, funny, multi-layered pod that kind of moves away from the dry analysis angle.

Lockdown hobby: Baking

Oh, for me it has been baking, which I never did before the pandemic. And I don’t mean that I never did it often, I mean I literally had never really baked anything before the pandemic. I was always so anxious about the time that went into it, and the sometimes shaky reward that came out of it, or at least the very real potential to mess something up. But I have really loved falling into something that I am not promised to be good at. I have enjoyed the payoffs where they’ve landed, and I’ve even enjoyed the failures as they’ve come up. I’m not opening a bakery any time soon, of course. But I’ve had some fun.

  • A Little Devil in America

  • At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was in a mood to reflect on her life and her legacy. She had spent decades as one of the most successful entertainers the world had ever seen, but, she told the crowd, "I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too". Inspired by these words, celebrated poet and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib has written a profound meditation on Black performance in the modern age, in which culture, history and his own lived experience collide.

    In prose that brims with jubilation and pain, A Little Devil in America explores a sequence of iconic and intimate performances which take Abdurraqib from mid-century Paris to the moon-and back down again, to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio. Each moment in each performance he examines has layers of resonance in Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and his own personal history of love and grief-whether it's the twenty-seven seconds of 'Gimme Shelter' in which Merry Clayton sings, or the magnificent hours of Aretha Franklin's homegoing; Beyoncé's Super Bowl half-time show or a schoolyard fistfight; Dave Chapelle's skits or a game of spades among friends.

    Infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians Abdurraqib loves, and richly textured with compassion and humour, A Little Devil in America is a unique exaltation of Black performances, cultures and communities.

  • Buy the book

Read more

We use cookies on this site to enable certain parts of the site to function and to collect information about your use of the site so that we can improve our visitors’ experience.

For more on our cookies and changing your settings click here

Strictly Necessary


Preferences & Features

Targeting / Advertising