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The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness Paperback – March 13, 2012

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“In his new work of literary and cultural criticism, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, the accomplished poet Kevin Young unearths, orchestrates, improvises and imagines lies and more lies--in short, American history. . . . Who is the liar, who the thief, who is telling whose history, and who is keeping score? Young forces us to contemplate who controls the music.” ―David Shields, The New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice

“Equal parts blues shout, church sermon, interpretive dance, TED talk, lit-crit manifesto and mixtape, the poet Kevin Young's first nonfiction book, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, is an ambitious blast of fact and feeling, a nervy piece of performance art. . . . [Young] makes a series of sly arguments for black art's centrality in American culture writ large.” ―New York Times

“In his first prose book, an expansive and radiantly interpretive exploration of 'black creativity,' [Kevin Young] proves to be an exceptionally fluent, evocative, deep-diving, and bracing critic. . . . Young reads, listens, and observes with acute, questing attention, following 'underground railroads of meaning' and tracing artistic lineages and bursts of fresh invention. As intricate and ingenious as his critiques are, Young is confiding, poignant, appreciative, witty, and poetic.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“[An] elegant and informative study. . . . Young moves through slave narratives and spirituals and beatniks and funk in a multifaceted yet coherent work comprising history, analysis, and theory. Young offers fresh, incisive assessments of myriad writers and musicians, performers all of the storytelling and counterfeiting conventions and traditions.” ―Publishers Weekly

“The pleasures in The Grey Album . . . are not just those of learning erudite details of black American history, but also those of hearing the impassioned impressions of a poet diving deep into his own personal history. Young entertains as much as he teaches and broadens our understanding of the unifying threads of America's unique cultural traditions.” ―Shelf Awareness

“The mind of poet Kevin Young's career has shimmered with the breadth of African-American culture, a place to explore, to dig deep and find riches to condense, jewels to polish. . . . Young's subjects range from W.E.B. DuBois to Notorious B.I.G. to Sojourner Truth to James Baldwin to James Brown to Colson Whitehead to Alice Walker to Wu-Tang Clan to Louis Armstrong. [On] any given page of The Grey Album. . . . Young draws together these disparate artists in the common tradition and form of storying.” ―Creative Loafing Atlanta

“This is a narrative of surprises--a book of secrets, too, though many of those secrets, as we discover, are cunningly hidden in plain sight (or in plain speech). The Grey Album investigates, even as it also performs, an American covert history--the stories behind any official or familiar story--as well as some emblematic escapes from and into American history. Veering across many vernaculars, from literature into music, theory into autobiography, Kevin Young writes cultural criticism of the most audacious, skillful, and ultimately touching sort.” ―Robert Polito, judge's statement for the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize

“Kevin Young's The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness is a page-turning dynamo. Here's a surge that nudges the reader into a bluesy terrain; its panoramic wit and critical certainty cut through the hokum and reveal a timbre of endurance. The Grey Album resonates like a spasm band, generating waves of intimate discourse on black music, literature, entertainment, culture, folklore, and American history. The collection of essays is propelled by a kinetic passion that's heroic, tessellating on the page into its postmodern shape. This poet-critic has created an unforgettable, robust trove of insights and lyrical gestures for us to query and embrace.” ―Yusef Komunyakaa

“This work is significant for smart readers.” ―Barbara Hoffert, Prepub Alert, Library Journal

About the Author

Kevin Young is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Ardency and Jelly Roll: A Blues, a finalist for the National Book Award. He is a curator and the Atticus Haygood Professor at Emory University.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; Original edition (March 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555976077
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976071
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Long an admirer of Kevin Young's sly lyrical poetry, I approached "The Grey Album" with some trepidation. What could this poet want to convey to readers that pushed him to prose? As it turns out, Young has a great deal to say, all said with the sharp eye, good humor, and honesty found in his earlier works. To say that Young here demonstrates himself to be "more than a poet" would be to denigrate the gift he has long brought to that form. Instead, I would say that he here proves himself to be a renaissance man capable of synthesizing a vast corpus of varied material.

Young has large fish to fry locating the origins modernism. This requires striking a careful balance. On the one side, Young must defend modernism from those who brand it as cultural imperialism in new clothes. On the other, he wants to forcefully assert the centrality of the African American contribution at the origins modernist movement. He locates this contribution in music and poetry. From Dunbar to Kaufman, and Armstrong to Jay-Z, Young marshals an eclectic range of material in the service of his argument.

The glue in these essays is the idea of "storying." Young sees this art of verbal dissimulation as central to African American survival under slavery and the oppression which followed emancipation. The evolution of storying fascinates, particularly as it fuels literature, music, and popular culture. A part of me was disappointed that Young didn't follow his arc to storying's ethically challenging moments, such as with Robeson. Yet this does not detracts from Young's central thesis, that African American culture is American culture, no limb of the trunk, but a root which nourishes the whole.
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Awesome!, This book brings an inspirational objective voice on just how great African American music, culture, and presence has been in shaping all the music in the United States/ the world!! This is a " must have" for all the music aficionados! Extremely well written and very well researched.
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This book provided a much needed insight into a section of literature I am less familiar. The author loves to write and does it well.
So there is a lot of energy
the book itself is easy to use
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