• A Little Devil in America

  • Notes in Praise of Black Performance
  • By: Hanif Abdurraqib
  • Narrated by: JD Jackson
  • Length: 9 hrs and 38 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (153 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award Finalist

“A masterpiece” (Minneapolis Star Tribune), a “devastating” (The New York Times) meditation on Black performance in America from the MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow and best-selling author of Go Ahead in the Rain 

One of the 10 Best Books of the Year: Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Morning News, Publishers Weekly • One of yhe Best Books of The Year: The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Boston Globe, NPR, Rolling Stone, Esquire, BuzzFeed, Thrillist, She Reads, BookRiot, BookPage, Electric Lit, The Rumpus, LitHub, Library Journal, Booklist

“Gorgeous essays that reveal the resilience, heartbreak, and joy within Black performance.” (Brit Bennett, number one New York Times best-selling author of The Vanishing Half)

“I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too.” Inspired by these few words, spoken by Josephine Baker at the 1963 March on Washington, MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow and best-selling author 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 27 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.

Touching on Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Billy Dee Williams, the Wu-Tan Clan, Dave Chappelle, and more, Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain. 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, humor, and heart, A Little Devil in America exalts the Black performance that unfolds in specific moments in time and space - from midcentury Paris to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio.

©2020 Hanif Abdurraqib (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Hanif Abdurraqib’s genius is in pinpointing those moments in American cultural history when Black people made lightning strike. But Black performance, Black artistry, Black freedom too often came at devastating price. The real devil in America is America itself, the one who stole the soul that he, through open eyes and with fearless prose, snatches back. This is searing, revelatory, filled with utter heartbreak, and unstoppable joy.” (Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf)

“Poignant...Abdurraqib has written an important book on the transformative power of...love.” (The New York Times)

“Abdurraqib sees performance as a site of radical questioning, experimentation, and dream-making. This book is not a work of theory. It is sensual.” (Vulture)

Featured Article: From the Queen of Soul to the Purple One, Hear the Stories of Black Musicians and Artists Who Broke Boundaries


This Black History Month—and every day of the year—we're shining a light on artists and thinkers who demonstrate the boundless depths of Black creativity, joy, and love. We've gathered a list of memoirs by and biographies about artists who totally upended the expectations of a white-dominated field and crafted something entirely their own, making history and changing lives as a result.

What listeners say about A Little Devil in America

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Magical

I learned about Hanif Abdurraqib from and interview with Brene Brown. It didn’t take more than 5 minutes in to realize what a gift this man and his writing is to this world. I immediately dove into this book and it did not disappoint. I will come back to this masterpiece again & again.

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Blurring the lines between essays and poetry

Abdurraqib won the 2020 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for his book A Fortune for Your Disaster, which I had read, and so I knew of his deep capacity to infuse language with pathos. His essays are always profound, and continually weave together seemingly disparate notions into seamless perfection. As an author, Abdurraqib revels in pressing against the boundaries of our expectations and so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I discovered as much poetry as prose in this beautiful, elegant volume of essays. But I was surprised. Again and again, the author surprises us with things that are so obviously true that they appear simple because they are honest. Abdurraqib’s hard-won vulnerability is anything but simple, however, as he illuminates an emotional landscape where “tenderness and rage are braided together”. In a book which celebrates Black performers, Abdurraqib manages to explore the innumerable ways we perform our racial identities, regardless of the color of skin we inhabit. And throughout it all, his words play harmony to his subject matter. whether he is turning last lines into first lines, or using ‘and’ as part line break, part metronome, Abdurraqib creates rhythms and incantations that get inside you as surely and unrelentingly as any of the songs or singers he writes about. By memorializing the subjects he does, Abdurraqib recovers and humanizes a series of unforgettable moments in our cultural tapestry even as they each slowly traced their own inevitable trajectories toward the stage exits of our social history. I, for one, am grateful that he did.

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Powerful and beautiful story, insights, and flow

I loved the poetry mixed in with the storytelling. I appreciated the vulnerability and deep truths within. I'm very glad I was guided to this book.

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raw, powerful, personal

The author wraps you in a narrative of both his own stories and reverence of black performance. He provides a prospective for the reader that is a necessary while melting you with his prose

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Great writing, great narration.

Loved it start to finish. I look forward to more books by this amazing author.

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This book will cleanse the American soul

But not absolve the nation from its bloody birth and penchant for violence, systematic oppression, and ongoing infliction of suffering for making a profit. America is redder than China for it loves blood of the poor people

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must read

this spears in a world that we've seen but never known with love reverence and admiration.

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Poetic revelatory truth

A Little Devil in America is Hanif Abdurraqib’s meditation on the songs the movements the inner motivations of black artists that have inspired his own journey. His observations and the connections he makes are gracefully realized in this book narrated perfectly by JD Jackson.

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Flawless

Perfectly written with vulnerability and insight, and read so sincerely that I often forgot that the reader and the writer were not the same person.