She's written about Jimi Hendrix, Toni Morrison and Dave Chappelle, but essayist and critic Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah says she's more interested in the moments that these legends have been true to themselves. Ghansah offers her Brief but Spectacular take on fearlessness and black art.
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Finally, the latest installment of Brief But Spectacular, our series where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.
Tonight, we hear from writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, a “New York Times” magazine contributor and author of the forthcoming book “The Explainers and the Explorers.” Her essays on uncompromising artists of color have earned critical acclaim.
Here, she speaks about fearlessness and black art.
RACHEL KAADZI GHANSAH, Author, “The Explainers and the Explorers”:
I like writing about people who look like me and the people I know who don’t have good pieces written about them, because we deserve it.
I have written about Jimi Hendrix, Electric Lady Studios, Toni Morrison, Kendrick Lamar, the Watts riots, Trayvon Martin, Rachel Jeantel, Dave Chappelle.
We don’t always hear about the people who we know as legends the ways that they were very true to themselves. I’m more interested in the moments when they were uncompromising and they were fearless, because what I hope is that that fearlessness tells us a little bit about how we can be fearless.
What was interesting to me about Dave Chappelle is, here is a moment where typically walking away from Comedy Central, walking away from your career would be a bad decision, and anyone would tell you, don’t do that. The common understanding of it is, is that he felt that the show had started to cross a line, and that it was actually becoming a source of embarrassment. And so walking away from $50 million was pretty heroic and pretty decent and full of integrity.
Well, you know, I couldn’t read until I was 12. And maybe I wasn’t 12, but I was older. I think people start reading when they’re 5 or something. And so books were kind of this phantasmagorical space that I couldn’t enter because my mom could read. My dad was an academic. Everyone was so intelligent. And I couldn’t go there.
And the moment I could, I just started to read ravenously. One of the books that I remember changing everyone’s lives was “Beloved.” That was the first time people who had been silenced, enslaved people, became human.
And, at that moment, I said, this is what a writer can do. And, so, for me, Toni Morrison doesn’t exist on a human plane. She almost exists in this odd, spiritual, otherworld, in terms of her work. And when she won that Nobel Prize, what was interesting is that a lot of prominent newspapers asked, does this woman deserve it?
So, when I had the moment to take the “New York Times” magazine cover, I decided I’m going to take that cover to lay flowers at the feet of this woman and say, not only did you deserve it, but thank you.
My name is Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on fearlessness and black art.
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