Hanif Abdurraqib on Decoration, Aminah Robinson and Lifting Up the Writing of OthersOctober 13, 2021 2:53 pm Taijuan Moorman
Hanif Abdurraqib is having an impressive year, though he’s not making a big deal of it.
In what he has called the “everything-at-once”-ness of the past few months, Abdurraqib has expressed much gratitude, as well as disinterest, in accolades and decoration in a general sense.
In June, his words were used in a celebration of Black art in Columbus with The People’s Mural of Columbus — commissioned by Cbus Libraries with artwork by Bryan Christopher Moss, in collaboration with other artists.
In July, news broke that he was joining Tin House Press as an editor-at-large. In August, it was announced that he is on the shortlist for the 2021 Gordon Burn Prize for March’s A Little Devil in America. And earlier this month, he was both named a fellow in the MacArthur Fellows Program — commonly known as the “Genius Grant” — a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals,” and also named a finalist for the National Book Award. That’s not to mention his return to Butler University as the Booth Tarkington Writer-in-Residence for the 2021–2022 academic year.
Abdurraqib, though gracious, doesn’t get too wrapped up in his own press. He’s keeping his head down, and looking toward what’s next.
“I don’t think I did anything special. I think a lot of people work harder than I do and (are) more talented than I am,” said Abdurraqib. “I don’t think about it as something that I accomplished, I just think about it as something that is a fortunate byproduct of the work. And because of that I know there’s more work to be done.”
Abdurraqib is the third Ohioan to win the MacArthur grant, behind mixed media artist Ann Hamilton, from Lima, and Columbus’ own Aminah Robinson, whom he calls “the greatest artist this city has ever had.”
“I am honored to be in the company of great artists,” said Abdurraqib, adding that it’s nice to be connected to Robinson in this way. “It means a lot to be in that lineage. Aminah specifically has created a path for a lot of Black art-making in Columbus.”
There’s an ancestral tree when it comes to Black artists in Columbus, Abdurraqib said, with many of the people who were inspired by Robinson also serving as inspirations to him.
He swiftly rejects the idea of filling Robinson’s shoes. If anything, he said, that would require a group effort.
“It’s got to be done collectively,” he said. “It’s got to be done via the way it has been done here in Columbus, through a collective of artists kind of working to advance her mission, her brilliance, and her legacy.”
The MacArthur grant is given to artists to freely create, but for Abdurraqib, he doesn’t know what that means just yet.
“So much of my work is unplanned and inbound in the pursuit of my own curiosities,” said Abdurraqib. He has spoken about A Little Devil in America in particular making him a better person as he threw away drafts in pursuit of making a better book.
“I hope not much changes, I will say that,” he said. “I hope that I’m still able to kind of create at a pace that feels comfortable and generous to my process.”
But one thing is planned, though not on an exact timeline — Abdurraqib is working on his next book, which likely won’t come out until 2023. There’s Always This Year addresses his formative years with basketball in the late ’90s/early 2000s era, from high school basketball in Ohio to that era’s basketball-related films, and how this impacted the world he lived and grew up in.
“This was a book I really wanted to write from the beginning,” he said. “I haven’t been this excited to start a project in a long time.”
Despite all that is happening, he’s excited to get back to what he cares about—doing the work and uplifting the work of others.
With all of this talk about uplifting and continuing the legacy of Columbus’ greatest artist through collaboration, it’s exciting to learn he has already started in that mission.
Abdurraqib recently acquired his first book with Tin House, the debut memoir of Ohio journalist and cultural essayist Prince Shakur.
“I’m really excited to work on that book and I’m really excited to get it out in the world. I think Prince is brilliant,” said Abdurraqib. “The whole idea with Tin House was how can I uplift other writers. And I didn’t expect that right away I’d be uplifting other Columbus writers.”
Shakur shared similar excitement about working with Abdurraqib.
“As a fellow writer born and raised in Ohio, I’m super excited to work with Hanif on my memoir that explores so many things that I’ve spent my life excavating, personally, politically, and creatively,” said Shakur. “My experiences working on essays with him at Level Magazine and 68to05 taught me how much he reveres the work of other writers’ processes. I hope to use this experience to learn a lot more.”
For more information, visit abdurraqib.com.