I was once asked the Desert Island Author Question. If I could only take the collected works of one author to a desert island (I’d love to know your response in the comments below), who would I take?
I know I considered Shakespeare, and then decided I needed more variety of forms. I’m sure I went through other possibilities, but I finally landed on James Baldwin, not out of any desire to come across as virtuous, but because if I could really have everything, articles and speeches included, then I would have a wide variety of challenging ideas and a remarkably consistent level, across all of those forms, of great writing. (Okay, I didn’t always love his poetry, but overall, I don’t think he gets credit enough for his writing in all of the genres. I worry about seeing him reduced to a quote machine.)
I think that by the time he’s all finished – which is almost certainly going to be long after I’m finished – a lot of people will have a different answer – Hanif Abdurraqib.
The Crown Ain’t Worth Much is powerfully good and destined to become a classic, I hope. I haven’t read A Fortune For Your Disaster yet, but I will. This book, a collection of genre defying short essays (if I have to call it something) is a master class. Abdurraqib takes an entry point (often music I’ve never heard or heard of) and comments on the music itself, its place in the artist’s or genre’s history as well as the larger points his interaction with the music and the moment make. And that previous epic sentence of mine doesn’t even begin to describe what he does and does so well. I’ve been introduced to this form as a “hybrid” essay, but in my experience, that involves two topics that are related and woven together. Abdurraqib’s pieces are a tower of Jenga blocks. Remove one comment about music, about neighborhoods, about his life, about race, about the church, etc., and the tower will almost certainly come tumbling down.
Abdurraqib also has a book called Go Ahead in the Rain, which is about A Tribe Called Quest. I know nothing about the group. After my experience with this one, I’m still going to read it. My only hope – and I wanted it for this one, too – is that it comes with a soundtrack.
Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake