Darryl Pinckney’s most recent book is a novel, Black Deutschland. (November 2017)


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.

Master Class

For Elizabeth Hardwick, literary criticism had to be up there with its subjects; real literature should elicit criticism worthy of the achievement in question. We got that from her straight off. The kind of modern literary criticism she was talking about—Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Edmund Wilson, Randall Jarrell, R.P. Blackmur, John Berryman, F.W. Dupee, Mary McCarthy—was as stimulating as the work it was exploring. Then, too, she wanted us to take seriously the essay as a form. The American essay—Thoreau, Emerson—was an important part of American history.

The Trickster’s Art

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: The Matters, 2016

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cipher

an exhibition at the New Museum, New York City, May 3–September 3, 2017

Regarding the Figure

an exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, April 20–August 6, 2017
A few years back I ran into Camille Brewer, a black American curator of contemporary art, on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem. “Look at this,” she said. She was turning the pages of Artforum, finding black artist after black artist. “It’s like Jet up in here.” Camille was referring to …

The Harlem He Knew

Claude McKay, July 1941; photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem

by Claude McKay, edited and with an introduction by Jean-Christophe Cloutier and Brent Hayes Edwards
Claude McKay has one of the most interesting life stories of the Harlem Renaissance writers, starting with how he got away from Jamaica, where he was born in 1889. McKay’s first two published volumes were of dialect poems, work encouraged by Walter Jekyll, the British folklore collector of Jamaica’s Blue …


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.