Hanif Abdurraqib, the music critic, essayist, and poet who currently serves as Butler University’s Booth Tarkington Writer-in-Residence, has been selected as a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and awarded a five-year, unrestricted grant for $625,000.

Abdurraqib is spending the 2021–2022 academic year at Butler, where he is ​​teaching both graduate students in the MFA in Creative Writing program and undergraduate English students. He’ll also present his work in Shelton Auditorium on December 2 as part of the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series. This is Abdurraqib’s second time at the University, following a poetry workshop he taught in 2019.

“I love the program at Butler,” he says. “I love the kind of writers the program focuses on and caters to, and I really believe in the vision and the work of everyone running the program. It’s a very writers-first program; it focuses on the writers. And there’s a real curiosity and eagerness in the students that I have not found anywhere else.”

MacArthur Fellowships, an initiative from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, are awarded to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The program provides the grants directly to its recipients, aiming to “encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.” Abdurraqib was among the 25 winners of this year’s awards, announced today. 

“We’re delighted to have Hanif as Writer-in-Residence this year,” says Jay Howard, Dean of Butler’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Both graduate and undergraduate students have shared with me how excited they are to have the opportunity to interact with and learn from him.” 

Over the past five years, Abdurraqib has made a huge name for himself in literary circles. In his work, he examines culture through the lens of popular music. He began his writing career as a music critic, learning to express his excitement for the power of music through words.

“Music allows me to access and see the world differently than I do,” he says. “I think I approach my investment in music with a sense of wonder, and I want to take that approach always.”

He went on to become a poet, and in 2016 published his first book of poetry, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much. His book of essays They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us came out the next year, followed by Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest and A Fortune for Your Disaster in 2019, and in March 2021, A Little Devil in America.

The MacArthur Foundation’s profile of Abdurraqib describes his work: “With an intimate and welcoming writing style that establishes an immediate connection with readers, he blends autobiography, social history, and keen insights into specific technical and emotional aspects of a song, an album, or a performance.”

For Abdurraqib, this is the second major honor in as many weeks. On September 16, he learned that his latest book, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, has been long-listed for a National Book Award in non-fiction. Finalists will be announced October 5. (Update—October 5, 2021: Abdurraqib’s book has been named a finalist, and the winner will be announced November 17.)

“Right now, Hanif is a rock star of literature, and my suspicion is that in the next year or two, he’s going to get even bigger,” Butler English Professor Dan Barden says. “We’re grateful that he enjoys being part of our community.”

Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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