Columbus author Hanif Abdurraqib is a man of many talents

In 2019 I became aware of Hanif Abdurraqib when he published his book “Go Ahead in the Rain,” his tribute to the hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. Abdurraqib is a native of Columbus and still lives there. He is a poet, essayist, and music critic.

Last year he put out a collection of essays with the title “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance.” The book’s original title was “They Don’t Dance No’ Mo’ " but it was changed before it came out.

Luke Dennis, my boss at WYSO Public Radio, was tremendously impressed by that book. He asked me if I could arrange to interview the author on my radio show? I contacted the author’s publicist at the publisher Random House to inquire about talking to Abdurraqib about his work.

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“A Little Devil” had only been out in hardcover for a few months and since the author lives in Columbus I naively presumed that booking an interview would not be difficult. I was wrong. His publicist informed me the author is super busy and there was no way I could ever get an interview.

No way. I kept emailing the publicist to try to change his mind. He stopped responding. At that point I began following Abdurraqib on Twitter where he has a robust presence with over 120,000 followers. He’s posting on that site a lot and I had to admit that based upon his comments he really is an active fellow.

He was constantly tweeting about poetry, music, sneakers, T-shirts, and the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team. He was often going somewhere to speak. Then I heard he won a MacArthur Fellowship. You know, they call it the “genius grant” and the current prize amount is $625,000.

After that I realized any possibility of interviewing him was fading. A few weeks ago I heard that Abdurraqib was going to be giving a talk at the Dayton Metro Library. I mentioned it to my boss and he responded, “hey, let’s go to that.” So we did.

Abdurraqib began that day by reading an essay from “Little Devil” called “An Epilogue for Aretha,” his musings on the funeral ceremonies to honor the late soul singer Aretha Franklin.

Then he took questions from a rather enthusiastic audience. I asked him one about his T-shirt collection. He was going to be giving another talk at Central State University that evening. He mentioned he planned to spend the afternoon in Dayton. I thought right, that means he will be heading out to Yellow Springs for certain.

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At 3 p.m. I was waiting patiently inside the Underdog Cafe in Yellow Springs when a gentleman entered. He was wearing a black facemask obscuring his features. I recognized him instantly and greeted him. He was certainly stunned I recognized him.

I told him how much I enjoyed his talk that morning. I mentioned my radio show then blurted out, “gosh, I sure would like to interview you!” He gave me his email address. When I emailed him he responded right away. It looks like I will get an interview with him after all. I guess it was meant to be?

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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