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The Grey Album Drops

By Harriet Staff

Kevin Young’s first book of nonfiction is reviewed over at the New York Times Books. Dwight Garner tells us this marvelous mashup is “Equal parts blues shout, church sermon, interpretive dance, TED talk, lit-crit manifesto and mixtape…” and “…an ambitious blast of fact and feeling, a nervy piece of performance art.” Garner goes on to say:

The book, which takes its title from Danger Mouse’s mash-up of the Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album,” is its own kind of collage. It rummages around in the work of African-American writers and musicians — from Bessie Smith and Langston Hughes to Lauryn Hill and Colson Whitehead — and makes a series of sly arguments for black art’s centrality in American culture writ large.

And while Garner has mostly positive things to say about the book, he notes:

“The Grey Album” is also a mess. It’s wordy, hectoring and often glib. Academic jargon (“performative aspects,” “white authentication systems”) bleeds in at the margins. It constructs, and then slays, armies of straw men. It rehashes arguments that have been better made elsewhere. It straddles so many fences that its author must be walking bowlegged. “It ain’t what you say, but how you say it,” Mr. Young says (more than once), but style isn’t everything. Yet this book is alive and heterodox, the kind of ambitious failure that’s more interesting than many wan so-called successes. It’s not a thing to read straight through so much as attentively skip around in, like a live double album. You can put the needle down almost anywhere.

We love glorious messes! Read more about the book and about Mr. Young after the jump.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 16th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.