cover image I Just Keep Talking: A Life in Essays

I Just Keep Talking: A Life in Essays

Nell Irvin Painter. Doubleday, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-385-54890-8

This brilliant compendium by Princeton University historian Painter (The History of White People) brings together previously published writings on American history, politics, and whiteness from throughout her career. Several pieces explore the legacy of slavery, including a 2000 introduction to Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in which Painter argues that the 1861 autobiography’s descriptions of sexual abuse at the hands of Jacobs’s master made the book one of the first to address the gendered impact of slavery. Decades-old selections remain insightful and timely. For instance, contemporary debates over school history curricula echo in a 1982 essay exploring how white scholars’ opposition to studies celebrating Black resistance have led to racist textbook portrayals of Black people as dependent on whites. Drawing illuminating historical parallels to the present, the 2022 essay “From 1872 to 1876 in the Space of One Year” likens the post–George Floyd racial reckoning to the promise of Reconstruction, but warns that calls for Democrats to “jettison voting rights in order to court White voters without college degrees” risks repeating the tragedy of the “Redemption” era, which rolled back Black civil rights starting in the late 1870s. Razor-sharp analysis lights up every page, and the bountiful images of multimedia artwork by Painter add a personal touch. This affirms Painter’s reputation as a historian and political commentator par excellence. Photos. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie. (Apr.)