Living Writer Series concludes with reading by Hanif Abdurraqib

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

On Nov. 17, The Rose O’Neill Literary House and Sophie Kerr Series hosted poet and non-fiction writer Hanif Abdurraqib as part of the ongoing Living Writers: Nonfiction Reading Series via Zoom. 

Abdurraqib read an excerpt from his forthcoming book “A Devil in America,” which explores Black performance. 

“His work enacts memory and springs memory,” Associate Professor of English and Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House Dr. James Hall said.

In addition to being a poet and a prose writer, Abdurraqib is an essayist and a cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. 

Other works include his New York Times Best Selling biography “Go Ahead in The Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest.”

His first collection of essays, “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us,” was released in winter 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork, and The Chicago Tribune, among others, according to his website. 

He is also a Cave Canem Fellow. Cave Canem is the most prestigious national organization for African American poetry, according to Dr. Hall.  

After the reading, the space was opened up for questions. 

Dr. Hall started by asking Abdurraqib about the ending of “Go Ahead in The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest.”

A Tribe Called Quest was an American hip hop group back in the 1980s and 90s. They released their sixth and final album in 2016. Abdurraqib’s book is memoriam of this group.

Abdurraqib started the book at the end of 2016, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. 

“The whole reason the book exists, to be clear, is because Tribe Called Quest came out with a final album,” he said. “They weren’t speaking towards a moment, they were speaking towards America’s history.”

Reading from his biography now, Dr. Hall asked, does the book bring him back to those final moments in 2016? 

“I cannot read it without thinking about the immediate post-election in 2016,” Abdurraqib said. 

Abdurraqib will not be writing edits to follow up on the 2020 presidential election.

“I’m not interested in the politics of the empire, I’m interested in the politics of the people,” he said.

Other questions ranged from his process to his current musical opinions to pop culture. 

Questions came from a variety of students and members of the Washington College community. 

Abby Wargo ’20 asked how his interpretation of his current essays changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If I am just staring at death toll numbers, I feel so emotionally vacant that it doesn’t spring me into action like so many other things in the pandemic have,” Abdurraqib said. “I think what I’m getting at is I don’t want to view death as an inconsequential thing.”

While the topics ranged in depth, the impact his reading had lasted with the audience beyond the event.  

“Writers like Abdurraqib inspire me,” Dr. Hall said in his closing statement. “I can’t wait to write a poem, I haven’t written a poem in a long time, but I was inspired after last night’s event.” 

“A Devil in America,” is set to hit the shelves in March of 2021.

For more information on Hanif Abdurraqib and his prose visit his website: 

Featured Photo caption: Hanif Abdurraqib reading an excerpt from his upcoming book “A Devil in America,” in the last installment of the Living Writer series for the semester. Photo by Rebecca Kanaskie.

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