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


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 …

Catching Up to James Baldwin

‘Know Your Rights!’; mural by Nelson Rivas, aka Cekis, Washington Heights, Upper Manhattan. Commissioned in 2009 by the People’s Justice for Community Control and Police Accountability, it has since been painted over. ‘The mural struck me as an act of love for the people who would pass it by,’ Emily Raboteau writes in her essay in The Fire This Time, and ‘as a kind of answer to the question that had been troubling us—how to inform our children about the harassment they might face.’

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race

edited by Jesmyn Ward
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by the novelist and memoirist Jesmyn Ward, originated in her search for community and consolation after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.


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.

Misremembering Martin Luther King

Dr. Martin Luther King leading the march from Selma to Montgomery

The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC looks like heroic sculpture from the China of Chairman Mao. In The Mountaintop, a play by Katori Hall now on Broadway, Dr. King is offered yet another tribute his memory could maybe have done without. In Hall’s well-meaning, but naive play about an imagined conversation between King and a maid at the motel where he stayed on the night before he was killed, King’s last hours on earth become an occasion for tribal laughter and warm black feelings. The Mountaintop is so focused on reconciling us—and him—to his death, that Hall seems uninterested in how she might be exploiting King’s legacy.