This beautifully written collection of essays by fiction and nonfiction writer Pinckney, longtime contributor to the New York Review of Books, covers a wide range of topics while still creating a cohesive, thoughtful experience for readers. He reflects on experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of black Americans today and historically, exploring the many complex ways people have been impacted by and have responded to racism. Many essays, including the one that inspired the book's title, are deeply personal and explore the author's own family, travel, education, and growth. Others offer a history of the civil rights movement; an analysis of movies, books, and music created by black artists; and reflections on recent events including the election of President Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement. Familiar subjects are presented in ways that compel readers to examine them with fresh perspective. Though the subject matter is vast, the author's voice is consistently engaging throughout. VERDICT The wide-ranging scope of this excellent book, with a foreword by Zadie Smith, will appeal to a broad audience. Anyone with a desire to reflect on the role that racism plays in shaping individual lives and broader American culture will undoubtedly find this to be a valuable read. [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/19.]—Sarah Schroeder, Univ. of Washington Bothell
This robust group of essays written between 1994 and 2018 by novelist Pinckney (Black Deutschland) explores African-American identity, politics, and culture. Covering such topics as Aretha Franklin’s “profound influence” and what Pinckney sees as Afro-pessimism’s futility, the author puts his insightful perspective on full display in each selection. From the highs of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign to the lows of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., Pinckney acknowledges both the social progress that’s been made and the urgency for further change. In the book’s title essay, Pinckney recounts spending a night in the Manhattan municipal jail known as “the Tombs” after he and two friends were arrested for smoking a joint outside a nightclub. Spending that night and much of the next day behind bars, Pinckney observes how “the system” exercises absolute control over “the nonwhite young, the poor” in ways previously unknown to him and his friends, all educated professionals able to easily brush off the experience. Reflections on black women’s experiences are relatively underrepresented, but nonetheless, Pinckney demonstrates his extensive range as a commentator on African-American life. This collection offers a deep dive into his prolific career as an indispensable critic of his times. (Nov.)
"Busted in New York, which collects 25 of those essays from the last 25 years, is not that book. In fact, it is something perhaps even greater . . . Pinckney is a companionable guide to this difficult era . . . As a reporter, on the ground, he is brisk, and leads with his hometown wits . . . There wasn’t a critic in America who could speak with equal measures of warmth and intelligence like Baldwin until Pinckney emerged in his full power in the 1990s." —John Freeman, The Boston Globe
"Fiercely intelligent essays, reportage, and reviews from the award-winning novelist and nonfiction writer . . . A deeply satisfying, beautifully crafted collection of work by a writer of uncommon excellence and humanity." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[Pinckney] reveals himself to be a skillful chronicler of black experience in literary criticism, reportage and biography." —Lauretta Charlton, The New York Times Book Review
"This beautifully written collection of essays by fiction and nonfiction writer Pinckney, longtime contributor to the New York Review of Books, covers a wide range of topics while still creating a cohesive, thoughtful experience for readers. He reflects on experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of black Americans today and historically, exploring the many complex ways people have been impacted by and have responded to racism . . . Though the subject matter is vast, the author’s voice is consistently engaging throughout." —Sarah Schroeder, Library Journal
"Darryl Pinckney’s latest literary compilation places a historical lens on the most pivotal moments in black America. From his examination of race relations during Barack Obama’s presidency to his nuanced analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr. Pinckney’s vast knowledge and critical dexterity make him one of the most vital intellectuals of our time." —Candace McDuffie, The Christian Science Monitor
Fiercely intelligent essays, reportage, and reviews from the award-winning novelist and nonfiction writer.
In a generous gathering of 25 pieces published since 1995, Pinckney (Black Deutschland, 2016, etc.), who once carried around James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son "as if it were a training manual," examines the African American experience, past and present, from the deeply observant vantage point of a black, gay intellectual. The most compelling pieces illuminate events—e.g., the "shower" of self-help at the Million Man March and tensions on the streets of "sundown town" Ferguson, Missouri, where the author bonded with protesters after the police shooting of Michael Brown. Each is exquisitely detailed, set firmly in history, and filled with personal reflections, unfurling in the beguiling manner of longer pieces in the New York Review of Books, where much of this book first appeared. The title essay describes Pinckney's arrest for smoking marijuana "in the dark of Sixth Street" in Manhattan. Writing with understanding and skepticism, he examines the centurieslong "surveillance" of black people, Soul on Ice at 50, the black upper class, and the first Obama inaugural in ways that meander pleasingly between distant and highly personal. The lives of his "NAACP faithful" parents are touchstones, as are the careers and works of Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, all considered here. The author first traveled to Europe in 1971, at age 17, and returned to live in Berlin for several years in the 1980s to escape America and racism. Of the 2016 election and the resurgence of white supremacy, he writes: "I mind this happening when I am getting too old to run from it. Shit, do not hit the fan." Other essays tell the story of blacks in Russia, explore the recent revival of Baldwin's work, and celebrate the art of Aretha Franklin, whose songs remain a soundtrack in Pinckney's life.
A deeply satisfying, beautifully crafted collection of work by a writer of uncommon excellence and humanity.