Books

A Little Devil in America

A book by Hanif Abdurraqib.

Hanif Abdurraqib

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.

Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians he loves. With care and generosity, he explains the poignancy of performances big and small, each one feeling intensely familiar and vital, both timeless and desperately urgent. Filled with sharp insight, humour, and heart, A Little Devil in America exalts the Black performance that unfolds in specific moments in time and space — from mid-century Paris to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in America.

Interviews with Hanif Abdurraqib

In this Q gateway, music journalist and author Hanif Abdurraqib picks his favourite songs by A Tribe Called Quest and tells us why the hip-hop group is considered one of the greatest of all time.
Unpacking the year in music and fandom with the poet, author and host of Lost Notes Season 3.
The poet reveals how a long history of performances by Black Americans -- from Aretha Franklin to the Soul Train dance line -- has shaped American culture through his latest book, A Little Devil in America.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now