Mad Libs With Hanif Abdurraqib

Kevin Awakuni, Librarian, Exploration & Creativity Department,
Hanif Abdurraqib
Mad Libs and conversation with Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib is a good sport. I mean, he's an amazing writer with his work being featured in The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and Fader. And his book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, was not only an incredible read but also a New York Times best seller.

But like I said he's a good sport too and was willing to play a round of Mad Libs with us. So read on and feel free to play along if you'd like. And don't forget to check out all of our amazing Season 6 LA Made events including a California Native Garden tour with landscape designer, Flor Mota; Learn more about dolphins and whales with wildlife scientist Toni Frohoff and maybe even get a tour of the new Academy Museum.

Mad Lib Words:

Occupation: ___________Name of Place: ___________Noun: ___________Noun: ___________
Food Item: ___________90s Hip Hop Group: ___________Year_____Name of Author: ___________
Adjective: ___________Plural Noun: ___________Verb: ___________Verb: ___________
Verb: __________Verb: __________Adjective: __________Adjective: __________Adjective: __________

Haniif's Mad Lib:

Hi! I'm Hanif Abdurraqib, a singer from Chicago. I enjoy writing about babies and pandas and waffles. My last book, Go Ahead in the Rain, was a meditation on the band Heltah Skeltah. I first began writing in 2001 after reading Toni Morrison who is a zealous writer. Other things to know about me: I don't leave the house without my ships. I enjoy dancing and sprinting and leaping as my forms of exercise. Please make sure to burst my conversation with Courtney Lily. It's gonna be tasty and possibly blaring. But most definitely not beautiful.

Would you actually write a whole book about Heltah Skeltah? Or do you think you have another book about 90's hip hop inside of you?

I don't think I would ever pursue a book about a single artist again, though I loved the challenge and the journey. I do think I could write a book about crews, broadly. What it is to have a crew, and be a part of a crew. And I think the Boot Camp Clik could be a vital part of any book like that.

Did you ever hear from Tribe about Go Ahead in the Rain? What were the conversations like in general when you were out touring with that book?

A bit, yes. I just worked on a piece about Phife's new album and spent some time talking to Jarobi, Ali, and Phife's family. I've worked with Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Phife's mother. It has all been really wonderful and kind. I loved touring and getting to talk to folks about rap, about songs.

Can you talk a little about how your latest book, A Little Devil in America, came about? What was that process like?

I did not want the book to be propelled by pain or trauma or grief. I wanted it to be propelled by celebration and an understanding that people’s full lives are more than just what they’ve endured. That’s something that was vital to me, and it made me think about if I’m offering some tragedy or some trauma—for example, the explicit naming of Don Cornelius’ death—I’m not going to stay on that too long. And I’m going to counter that with some much longer threads about the magic and miracle of Don Cornelius’ living.

For me, it was not about hovering on ideas of what was lost as much as it was celebrating ideas of what was and has been and could be. And for me, this was centering in a way because it made sure that I was divesting from the idea that Black life is only appealing or tantalizing if it comes alongside trauma.

How did the themes of each essay come about? Did you start with a theme in mind, then work your way towards that idea, or was it a little more nebulous, and through the process of writing did the theme reveal itself?

I knew the book was going to be a book that revolved around the fullness of performance, and so with most of the essays, I went into them asking myself how I could define and redefine the ideas of performance, or stretch my own ideas of them. Kind of argue against my own limits of what performance is or can be.

Do you carry a notebook to write down random thoughts, tap it out in your phone, or none of the above?

Most stuff I kind of just store in my head—I've got a pretty good memory/storage bank, at least for now. And I try to use it to my advantage when I can.

What are three things you've been into this week? This can be anything—a walk in the park, an old vinyl record you rediscovered, fireworks—literally anything that's been putting a smile on your face.

I have been captivated by the NBA playoffs and the narratives within. I'm rearranging my sneaker room, which has been fun. And I've gotten a renewed investment in cooking that has really excited me.

Are you a completionist or do you skip from book to book?

I am working on reading just one book at a time, and right now that book is Girlhood by Melissa Febos.

Last one—a couple of quick Would You Rathers:

Would you rather be a bird or a mountain?


Would you rather be in a Netflix documentary as the subject, or as the opponent of the subject?


Would you rather have the body of a 25-year-old at age 50, or have the wisdom of a 50-year-old at age 25?


Be sure to check out Hanif in conversation with Courtney Lilly, head writer of the hit show Black-ish.