Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

Overview

“[Frank B.] Wilderson [will] become a major American writer. Mark my word.”—Ishmael Reed

In 1995, a South African journalist informed Frank B. Wilderson, one of only two American members of the African National Congress (ANC), that President Nelson Mandela considered him “a threat to national security.” Wilderson was asked to comment. Incognegro is that “comment.” It is also his response to a question posed five years later by a student in a California university classroom: “How...

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Overview

“[Frank B.] Wilderson [will] become a major American writer. Mark my word.”—Ishmael Reed

In 1995, a South African journalist informed Frank B. Wilderson, one of only two American members of the African National Congress (ANC), that President Nelson Mandela considered him “a threat to national security.” Wilderson was asked to comment. Incognegro is that “comment.” It is also his response to a question posed five years later by a student in a California university classroom: “How come you came back?”

Although Wilderson recollects his turbulent life as an expatriate in South Africa during the furious last gasps of apartheid, Incognegro is at heart a quintessentially American story. During South Africa’s transition, Wilderson taught at universities in Johannesburg and Soweto by day. By night, he helped the ANC coordinate clandestine propaganda, launch psychological warfare, and more. In his mesmerizing political memoir, Wilderson’s lyrical prose flows from his childhood in the white Minneapolis enclave “integrated” by his family to a rebellious adolescence at the student barricades in Berkeley and under tutelage of the Black Panther Party; from unspeakable dilemmas in the red dust and ruin of South Africa to his return to political battles raging quietly on US campuses and in his intimate life. Readers will find themselves suddenly overtaken by the subtle but resolute force of Wilderson’s biting wit, rare vulnerability, and insistence on bearing witness to history no matter the cost.

A literary tour de force sure to spark fierce debate in both America and South Africa, Incognegro retells a story most Americans assume we already know, with a sometimes awful, but ultimately essential clarity about racial politics and our own lives.

Frank B. Wilderson, III is the award-winning author of Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (Duke UP) and the director of Reparations . . . Now.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Long-winded but frequently beautiful memoir traces the author's evolving identity, from childhood in upper-middle-class suburban Minneapolis to joining the desperate struggle against apartheid in South Africa and beyond. Wilderson (African-American Studies and Drama/Univ. of California, Irvine) moves erratically through time. He begins with the startling moment in Johannesburg, where in 1995 he learned that Nelson Mandela believed he was a threat to national security. But soon we are hearing about his first visit to South Africa in 1989, when a journalist urged 33-year-old Wilderson to come and bear witness to apartheid. He worked for several years in the '90s as a writer for the African National Congress, recording eyewitness accounts of violence against black people in the townships and sending them to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Wilderson was an outspoken, well-read Marxist given to lecturing the underground militants he worked under, namely white Trevor Garden and black activist Stimela Mosando, who ran guns and ideas for the ANC's more radical arm. The author fell in love with and married a young law student named Khanya. They lived briefly in New York, but she disliked the covert racism she found there. Back in Johannesburg, they endured the violent repercussions of black politician Chris Hani's 1993 assassination and were eventually torn apart by ideological discord. Alternating chapters cover Wilderson's seismic awakening to racism in America as the child of one of the only black families in well-off Kenwood, Minn.; his adolescent activism in the '60s; his studies in African literature at Dartmouth; his ten years as a stockbroker; his decision to become a teacherand writer. His account of a long affair with an older white academic provides perhaps more information than most readers will want, but it fits with Wilderson's mission to be brutally honest with and about himself. Angry and paranoid, with moments of stylistic clarity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780896087835
  • Publisher: South End Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2008
  • Pages: 500
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Frank B. Wilderson III is the author of Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid (South End Press) and Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (Duke University Press), and the director of Reparations...Now, a film in progress. A critically-acclaimed scholar and artist, Wilderson's writing has garnered numerous awards and honors, including the National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Judith Stronach Award for Poetry, the Loft-McKnight Award for Best Prose in the State of Minnesota, the Maya Angelou Award for Best Fiction Portraying the Black Experience in America, the Eisner Prize for Creative Achievement of the Highest Order, the Crothers Short Story Award, and the Jerome Foundation Artists and Writers Award. In 2008, Incognegro won the American Book Award. Wilderson teaches African American studies and drama at the University of California, Irvine.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 16, 2009

    Please, Can Somebody Make A Movie From This Book?!!!

    I'm will be reading 'Incognegro' again over the summer. It's just that good. If you think you heard or know the whole story about South Africa during and after the apartheid years - get real and get this book. 'Incognegro' is truly riveting, personal, sometimes funny, and dangerously informative with a down-to-earth insider's perspective without being too heavy on the brain. 'Incognegro' will leave you wondering about what you really believe and thought you knew about the real world of global politics, politics, and the politricks behind the politics - this book will tickle your mind too. Will somebody PLEASE make a movie from this book!

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