Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and music critic born and raised in Columbus, Ohio—he is the author of A Fortune For Your Disaster, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, and Go Ahead In the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest.
Abdurraqib is the author of the poetry collection The Crown Ain’t Worth Much (2016), a musical portrait of himself as a child growing up in a changing city of displacement and gentrification; the essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (2017), where he uses music—particularly live music—as a lens through which to view the world, and—most recently—Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest (2019), a New York Times bestseller and a “warm, immediate and intensely personal” homage to the seminal rap group (New York Times).
According to Abdurraqib, he began his career “writing a lot of bad music reviews,” which people would complain were “too poetic,” so he decided to start writing poems in 2012; somewhere along the way, he figured out how to bridge the gap between the two mediums, finding genre-bending language that works to articulate his passion. His essays and music criticism have gone on to be featured in publications like The Fader, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and the New York Times.
Abdurraqib’s first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, released in 2017, was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork, and the Chicago Tribune. The essays revolve around musicians and other cultural figures like Serena Williams, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, and Nina Simone, which he expertly intertwines with passages about his family, childhood, friends, and neighborhood, finding moments of joy and grace in a country that is armed against Black people.
In one anecdote in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Abdurraqib recounts the time he took up jazz as a thirteen-year-old, partly driven by Nina Simone’s influence, only to have his white jazz teacher tell him that his lips were “too big to play trumpet.” This in turn led Abdurraqib’s father to march into the teacher’s office with a collection of records with Black trumpet players on their covers, spreading them all out on the desk: Louis Armstrong, Freddie Hubbard, and Mercer Ellington.
As for Abdurraqib’s poetry, it often takes the shape of prose poems without line breaks and rhymes, in part because he thinks it makes them more accessible, touchable, and firm. Abdurraqib’s poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. He was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize, as well as nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award; his poem “Hestia” won the 2014 Capital University Poetry Prize.
Abdurraqib will be publishing his second collection of poems, A Fortune for Your Disaster, in the fall of 2019, which deals in part with his mother’s death. Khadijah Queen praises: “A Fortune for Your Disaster proves that, if you pay attention, Black people have defined and still define themselves for themselves amid roses and dandelions, cardinals and violets, the blues of music and police uniforms, prayer and swagger, Kehinde Wiley paintings and too many funerals, the streets of bleak cities and the fraught histories of ‘a kill or be killed / nation.’”