Thanks to the climate of political correctness, it seems like every time someone black gets a burr under his or her saddle and puts it between book covers, he or she is heralded as a brilliant pen and a great shining voice of undeniable consequence. Usually, it’s some inept writer but a savvy hustler who made the right insider connections, got on the good side of a grant committee and, presto, ascended to prominence, a feted prize-winning darling of the “cutting edge” status quo. Thank God, every once in a blue moon, somebody comes along who isn’t selling a bill of goods.
Frank B. Wilderson, III has been hyped north, east, south, and west across America as one of the best since the likes of James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston and John A. Williams. He lives up to it, brandishing a hand that, in fact, distinguishes him beyond many of the masters. To call Wilderson a genius understates the case. This author melds fluidity, consciousness, and passion into a reading experience that, scarcely to be believed, is to be savored every page of the way.
Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, a book by Frank B. Wilderson, III. Published by South End Press (2008). $18.00. The author will be reading on October 10 at Magers & Quinn Booksellers and October 11 at the Twin Cities Book Festival.
His extraordinary Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid has put him on the map. Small wonder. Reading like a novel, this recollection of Wilderson’s life as an American in South Africa at the end of apartheid (in 1995, he was one of only two U.S. members of the African National Congress), engages, captivates, and galvanizes. The man held no allegiance to politicians: it goes without saying that for a writer—black, white, or otherwise—working in South Africa but failing to support the regime meant at best a hasty exit visa, at worst being “disappeared.” A South African journalist tipped Frank Wilderson off to President Nelson Mandela as a “threat to national security.” Surprised to see some tarnish on Mandela’s halo? Wait until you get to all the truths of Incognegro and really have your eyes opened. This is a writer who, from content to context, goes beyond the social and political to reach our common humanity.
If that’s not enough, here’s a local hook. Wilderson, though born in New Orleans, is a Twin-Cities-spawned author (his family moved to Minneapolis when he was six) who has earned, among other honors, the Loft-McKnight Award for Best Prose in the State of Minnesota, and the Maya Angelou Award for Best Fiction Portraying the Black Experience in America. He has both studied and taught poetry and fiction at The Loft Literary Center.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.