A crowd of around 35 people gathered in The End of All Music record store on Wednesday night to hear Hanif Abdurraqib read poems and have copies of his essay collection titled “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” signed.
Abdurraqib, an Ohio native, noted that it was the one year anniversary of the book’s release and said a lot more people are interested in his private life now due to the personal narratives within the collection.
“I think the upside of the type of writing I do and the type of writing I aspire to do is that it creates a relational exchange,” Abdurraqib said. “But if there is a downside of that, it’s that it can blur the line between public and private in a way that’s very odd, but also somewhat welcome.”
He said he’s had more fruitful and exciting conversations about music than he’d ever imagined as a result of the book, which includes essays related to musicians ranging from Fall Out Boy to Migos to Carly Rae Jepsen and Nina Simone.
When indie book publisher Two Dollar Radio reached out to Abdurraqib in 2016 about writing a collection of essays, he was initially uninterested but warmed up to the idea.
“I had this collection of work that was kind of asking questions around what it looks like to be a music fan in this era, and like music fandom that echoes through lots of years and involves lots of nuances,” Abdurraqib said. “And, it just felt like the right time for me to put it out.”
Abdurraqib said his career started out with him “writing a lot of bad music reviews.”
“People did not love those things because they would complain about them being too poetic, whatever that means, so then I decided to start writing poems,” Abdurraqib said. “And somewhere in between that, I found out how to bridge the gap between the two mediums and find out a language that works to articulate the passion about the artistic.”
Abdurraqib said he doesn’t like to shame people for what they don’t know but instead invite them to learn — so he writes from the standpoint of a fan.
“It’s more exciting to present a landscape where a person doesn’t feel ashamed for not knowing,” Abdurraqib said. “I’m always curious and so I’m kind of writing from a standpoint of trying to spread that curiosity around really effectively.”
Poems he read at the event included “For the Dogs Who Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut,” “It’s Not Like Nikola Tesla Knew All of Those People Were Going to Die” and several pieces from a series of poems with the same title “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This.”
He also read selections from two books slated for release within the next year. In February 2019’s “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest,” Abdurraqib relates his life and experiences to the group’s music. His second collection of poems, titled “A Fortune for Your Disaster,” will be released in October 2019.
Oxford is one of the final stops of the year on Abdurraqib’s tour to promote his book. His stop at The End of All Music in collaboration with Square Books was the first of three this week. He’s also appearing in Hattiesburg and Houston, Texas.
“I was like, ‘What a joy it would be to come to Oxford and start this whole journey off here,’” Abdurraqib said.