Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul?: Essays

Jesse McCarthy. Liveright, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63149-648-6
McCarthy, an assistant professor of English and African American Studies at Harvard, sheds light on the intersection of politics, art, and Black identity in his thought-provoking debut. “This is not a book of political essays,” he writes, but rather a series of “eccentric but serious attempts to synthesize and connect different bodies of knowledge and their relationship to race or black culture.” In “The Origin of Others,” McCarthy surveys Toni Morrison’s scholarly works, which taught “a generation of literary scholars how to read for the ‘Africanist presence’ in texts that otherwise pretend not to be concerned with race.” “To Make a Poet Black” sees the author diving deep into Sappho’s work to examine “the history of how people read certain kinds of importance into race and poetry,” and the title essay poses reparations as “a moral rather than a material debt.” McCarthy puts himself in conversation with such contemporary figures as Ta-Nehisi Coates (he engages with Coates’s essay “The First White President” to make sense of Donald Trump’s presidency and consider the role of Black intellectuals in society), and the musician D’Angelo, whose 2014 album Black Messiah McCarthy sees as “a flash of black hope in the hour of chaos.” The result is an insightful collection as timely as it is original. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 02/02/2021
Release date: 03/09/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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