Darryl Pinckney’s most recent book is a novel, Black Deutschland. (June 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

The Afro-Pessimist Temptation

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates says that he came to understand as a grown-up the limits of anger, but he is in a fed-up, secessionist mood by the end of We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. His collection of eight essays on politics and black history written during Obama’s two terms of office, introduced with some new reflections, portrays his post-election disillusionment as a return to his senses. Coates wonders how he could have missed the signs of Trump’s coming: “His ideology is white supremacy in all of its truculent and sanctimonious power.” He strongly disagrees with those who say that racism is too simple an explanation for Trump’s victory. He was not put in office by “an inscrutable” white working class; he had the support of the white upper classes to which belong the very “pundits” who play down racism as an explanation.

Drue Heinz (1915–2018)

Count Guido Brandolini and Drue Heinz at a party hosted by Elsa Maxwell, Hotel Danieli, Venice, circa 1959
Some time ago, Drue Heinz said to me about dying, “It’s rather disconcerting to realize that you can’t take even a book with you.” We were in a very brown and velvety study done up by her favorite decorator, Renzo Mongiardino, in her house in New York, on Sutton Place.

Black Pictures

Poster for The Exile (1931), the first sound feature written and directed by Oscar Micheaux, based on his novel The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer

Pioneers of African-American Cinema

directed by Richard Norman, Richard Maurice, Spencer Williams, and Oscar Micheaux; curated and including essays by Charles Musser and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart
Gustave Flaubert’s next best seller after Madame Bovary was Salammbô, a historical novel about a revolt of mercenaries in third-century-BC Carthage. The black novelist Charles Chesnutt saw the Italian film director Domenico Gaido’s adaptation, Salambo, in a Cleveland movie theater in 1915. Chesnutt remembered that when Spendius, the mercenary general’s black lieutenant, came on the screen, a white woman sitting next to him remarked, “Well, look at the coon! He’s a spy and a traitor, no doubt.” The medium of film was still rather new, but the attitudes projected through it were the familiar, vicious ones that Chesnutt, born a free black in North Carolina in 1858, had made it his life’s work to write against.

Black Lives Matter

Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present The most Astounding and Important Painting show of the fall Art Show viewing season!

an exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins and Co., New York City, September 7–October 14, 2017
In Kara Walker’s new exhibition, it is as though she has drawn her images of antebellum violence from the nation’s hindbrain. Walker has been creating her historical narratives of disquiet for a while, and they are always a surprise: the inherited image is sitting around, secure in its associations, but on closer inspection something deeply untoward is happening between an unlikely pair, or suddenly the landscape is going berserk in a corner.

NYR DAILY

The Passport of Whiteness

An African migrant, Sicily, July 17 2017

Everyone knows we are a nation of immigrants, that immigrants are good for the economy, and that freedom seekers are our kin. What I find sad is that we all know this history. We did not think the ideal of liberal democracy, the open society, would have to be fought for all over again. We are so spoiled we thought that it just grew naturally with everything else we have in our gardens of relative good fortune.

Looking Harlem in the Eye

Carl Van Vechten: Ethel Waters, 1932

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), enthusiast of Modernism and ally of the Harlem Renaissance, had a swell time while the Roaring Twenties lasted and his home became something of a cultural clearinghouse for black writers and artists. But his photographs of black people are perhaps his most personal work. Van Vechten’s admiration for his subjects was unambiguous and the portraits speak of his talent for friendship. They knew who he was. Even when the subject’s gaze is averted, as in Van Vechten’s 1936 portrait of Lottie Allen, described as a domestic worker, her “dates unknown,” the viewer believes that she, who appears to be in uniform, trusts the white man behind that camera.

Dancing Miss

Billie Holiday, 1938

Darryl Pinckney remembers Elizabeth Hardwick’s portrait of Billie Holiday, which first appeared in the March 4, 1976 issue of The New York Review.

Singing of Adultery and Apartheid

Nonhlanhla Kheswa as Matilda in Peter Brook's production of The Suit

Can Themba’s “The Suit,” a sparsely told tale of betrayal, was adapted for the stage in South Africa in the early 1990s. Peter Brook presented his production of The Suit at the Theatres des Bouffes du Nord last year. His English version is now at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in the Harvey Theater, a space made to look distressed, in imitation of the look of decay that Brook’s Paris theater has made famous. Audiences will know immediately that The Suit is the work of Peter Brook, in its looking beyond Europe and the West for stories to tell on stage, and also in the elegant economy of the staging itself.

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