Feature

6 books that inspired Hanif Abdurraqib's work

The author recommends works by Marianne Chan, Taylor Johnson, and more

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, critic, host of the podcast Object of Sound, and author of the 2019 best-seller Go Ahead in the Rain. His new book, A Little Devil in America, celebrates dozens of singular artists in a history of Black performance.

All Heathens by Marianne Chan (2020).

I have had this book on my desk for nearly a year now, particularly because I am astonished by the music resting in the poems. They offer a rejoinder to Ferdinand Magellan's scribe, who wrote that the peoples of the Philippines were "heathens." I find myself returning to Chan's collection when I'm stuck in my own writing, just to find some recollection of what is possible from the standpoint of sound.

Inheritance by Taylor Johnson (2020).

I think as I get a little older, I've become drawn to books of poems that aren't overly sentimental, or that are at least honest about the limits of intimacy and sentimentality. This book does that (and so much more!) for me.

Grown by Claudia M. Wilson (2019).

This collection is the work of a poet and social worker who spent time in foster care as a child. I love how it shifts in tone, in voice, how it is paced so brilliantly. I find myself envious of a book that is paced perfectly, and turn to books of poems for reminders of how to do it well.

Ain't Sh--: A Punk Zine (2013-15).

These zines are collective works bursting with Black punk histories, imagery, writings, and reconsiderations. I love them and have held them close during my writing processes, largely as reminders that I'm not doing anything new or unique. Reminders that I am in a lineage and history of Black punk — I'm really proud of that, and really excited for those small reminders when I drift.

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton (1985).

I am endlessly thankful for the great Virginia Hamilton, one of the most important writers from my home state of Ohio. This was the first book that allowed me to understand the miracles and magic of folktales, of storytelling, of delivering information in a way so thrilling that it can't help but be passed down and passed along.

Present Tense by Farrah Skeiky (2020).

This is a book of photos from hardcore and punk shows. Farrah is one of my favorite living music photographers, because every shot makes me wish I was in the room.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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