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Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul?

Nonfiction: Social Sciences
Unabridged   12 hour(s)
Publication date: 11/30/2021

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
New York Times Book Review
Best Books of the Year: TIME, Kirkus Reviews

Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul?

Available from major retailers or BUY FROM AMAZON
Audio CD ISBN:9781696604666
Digital Download ISBN:9781696604659


A supremely talented young critic's essays on race and culture, from Toni Morrison to trap, herald the arrival of a major new voice in American letters.

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Product Description

Even as our world has suffered through successive upheavals, Jesse McCarthy contends, "something was happening in the world of culture: a surging and unprecedented visibility at every level of black art making." Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul? reckons with this resurgence, arguing for the central role of art and intellectual culture in an age of widening inequality and moral crisis.

McCarthy reinvigorates the essay form as a space not only for argument but for experimental writing that mixes and chops the old ways into new ones. In "Notes on Trap," he borrows a conceit from Susan Sontag to reveal the social and political significance of trap music. In "Back in the Day," McCarthy evokes his childhood in Paris through an elegiac account of French rap in the 1990s. In "The Master's Tools," the relationship between Spanish painter Diego Velázquez and his acolyte-slave, Juan de Pareja, becomes the lens through which Kehinde Wiley's paintings are viewed, while "To Make a Poet Black" explores the hidden blackness of Sappho and the erotic power of Phillis Wheatley. Essays on John Edgar Wideman, Claudia Rankine, and Colson Whitehead survey the state of black letters, and, in his title essay, McCarthy takes on the question of reparations, arguing that true progress will not come until Americans remake their institutions in the service of true equality.


"This is a very smart and soulful book. Jesse McCarthy is a terrific essayist." ― Zadie Smith

"Having grown up in Paris, where he moved with his parents, both journalists, when he was 8, the author bears witness to ‘the Paris of color, of difference’ that marginalizes Black immigrants. The tragic terrorist attacks at Bataclan in 2015, writes McCarthy, communicated ‘a desperate will to power’ by those who believe verbal expression impossible. Urbane, penetrating cultural analysis." ― Kirkus Starred Review

"McCarthy puts himself in conversation with such contemporary figures as Ta-Nehisi Coates [...], 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." ― Publishers Weekly

Author Bio

Jesse McCarthy is assistant professor of English and African American studies at Harvard University. He is an editor at the Point and has written for n+1, Dissent, the Nation, and the New Republic. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.