It would be an o’er-leaping vault of Shakespearean proportions to call the new wave of brilliant black American writers the silver lining of Trump’s dark rise.
But the global success of Paul Beatty’s hilarious and scathing satire The Sellout turned out to be a headline-grabbing kick-starter for a series of profound and spirited essays and fictions. The Big Issue revelled in the work of Hilton Als, Jacqueline Woodson, Jesmyn Ward, Darnell L Moore, Angie Thomas, Hanif Abdurraqib, David Chariandy…we really could go on and on, so plentiful has been the flow.
But in 2018 one intoxicating short story collection cried out for special attention among its lauded peers, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black has haunted our dreams and plagued our nightmares ever since.
When we first reviewed the 27-year-old New Yorker’s debut (debut!), still dizzy on its exhilarating blend of wildfire imagination, blood-freezing terror and ingenious wit, we compared the experience of reading it to being ‘locked in a room with only coke-addled American Psycho Patrick Bateman and his fridge full of decapitated heads for company’
(Bateman was nothing if not a thrillingly unpredictable host).
Its bold ideas and vivid metaphors creep into your brain at unexpected moments
Like Bret Easton Ellis’ modern classic, this is a book not easily forgotten. Its bold ideas and vivid metaphors creep into your brain at unexpected moments, like a unrelenting earworm suddenly singing on your head while you attempt to conduct a conversation, catch a train or follow a complicated movie plot. It’s hard to read a story about white misperceptions or racially-aggravated injustice, or even to look upon a young black man slouching under a baseball cap without an image from Friday Black pushing its way to the front of your brain, forcing you to process the everyday through an Adjei-Brenyah filter.
Adjei-Brenyah, the son of Ghanese immigrants, has landed on the literary scene fully loaded, full of inventive and provocative ways to make his readers sit up and think again – think harder – about the lives of black Americans. Like the two landmarks in contemporary black American pop culture his book is most frequently compared to – Jordan Peele’s movie Get Out and Childish Gambino’s video for This is America – it weaponises hyperbole, fantasy, horror and surrealism to create a high-impact dystopian vision of its native subject.