On the Dial | Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
The MTV VMAs recently aired, featuring another noteworthy speech from Kanye and a comeback performance by your girl Britney. Columbus, OH native, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib co-wrote the show. When he's not rubbing shoulders with pop-culture elite, Hanif is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. Now residing in Connecticut with his wife, Hanif still frequents his hometown on the reg. I know this because he never misses a chance to post a pic of Grandpa's Cheese Barn on the scenic stretch of Northern Ohio's Interstate-71.
During his time in Columbus, Hanif was an extremely active member of the community. Notably, he hosted a stellar weekly poetry reading at a local coffee shop. I had the pleasure of attending a few times. His impact on the city was always positive. His website introduces himself: "Hi I'm Hanif. I write poems. I write things about music. I'm probably eating french fries." He's just being modest.
Hanif's poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, and The New York Times, and he is currently a columnist at MTV News.
Last week, he penned a compelling and honest piece on authenticity, place, the Columbus music scene, and Lydia Loveless, 'The Candid Country of Lydia Loveless's Real.' (Loveless, in addition to living and working in Columbus and being a very talented musician, wrote an original song for the film adaptation of Amy Koppelman's novel that we published, I Smile Back that starred Sarah Silverman.)
"Ohio is a three-city state, which, for its size, is somewhat impressive. Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati run down the middle of the state, from north to south. Unlike other states with only one major city (say, Illinois), Ohio’s three are often wrestling for notoriety and fighting to stand apart from each other. It makes for a fascinating and sometimes puzzling split, each city its own republic. But even with so much space taken up by cities in any direction, it is a state with the same Midwest bleakness as all of the states that surround it: abandoned factories in Akron; leaning, weather-worn barns along the highway with Ohio’s bicentennial dates still painted on their sides from over a decade ago; a black sign rising out of a dying field, reminding us that Hell is real. This balance makes the state feel equal parts full and emptying, the perfect landscape for a person to become anything. It is a state that relies on people selling it to the dismissive masses who only turn an eye toward it during election season. What I appreciate about the music of Lydia Loveless, even after all these years, is that I am being sold nothing."
Button Poetry just released Hanif's first book of poetry The Crown Ain't Worth Much, and it is a doozie. National Book Award Winner, Terrance Hayes calls it a "fresh, remarkable debut." I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.
Note: Hanif's Columbus book release show is going to be September 16th, at Roy G Biv Gallery.