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Frank Wilderson III


Frank B. Wilderson, III is professor and chair of African American Studies, and a core faculty member of the Culture & Theory Ph.D. Program at UC Irvine; and an award-winning writer whose books include Afropessimism (Liveright/W.W. Norton 2020); Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid (Duke University Press 2015); and Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Duke University Press 2010). He spent five and a half years in South Africa, where he was one of two Americans to hold elected office in the African National Congress during the apartheid era. He also was a cadre in the underground. His literary awards include The American Book Award; The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Creative Nonfiction; The Maya Angelou Award for Best Fiction Portraying the Black Experience in America; and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. Wilderson was educated at Dartmouth College (A.B Government and Philosophy), Columbia University (MFA/Fiction Writing), and UC Berkeley (PhD/Rhetoric).


Praise for Afropessimism:

“A compelling, profoundly unsettling blend of memoir and manifesto that proposes that―by design―matters will never improve for African Americans…. Blending affecting memoir that touches on such matters as mental illness, alienation, exile, and a transcendent maternal love with brittle condemnation of a condition of unfreedom and relentless othering, the author delivers a difficult but necessary argument. Perhaps the greatest value of the book is in its posing of questions that may seem rhetorical but in fact probe at interethnic conflicts that are hundreds, even thousands of years old…. An essential contribution to any discussion of race and likely to be a standard text in cultural studies for years to come.”
Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

“[Wilderson’s] writing is powerful, nuanced, and lyrical (“Her hair was white and thin as dandelion puffs,” he recalls of a visit to his aged mother.)… [his] passionate account of racism’s malevolent influence is engrossing.”
Publishers Weekly

“Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism is a brilliant memoir and riveting work of creative non-fiction. He joins the ranks of Claudia Rankine, Saidiya Hartman and Frantz Fanon as one of the boldest and most unflinching theorists of the indispensability―like oxygen to lungs―of anti-Black violence and racism. And nothing since Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas has haunted me with the sheer terror of truth that Humanity and the world itself are defined by and feed on Black suffering and death. The greatest challenge in reading this Afropessimist coming-of-age story is seeing a reflection of yourself and finding the will and the words to prove him wrong.”
Khalil Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America

“There are crucial books that you don’t agree with, but one still comes to understand the importance of the thought experiment. Afropessimism is one of those books.”
Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric

“I am awed by this beautiful and compelling book Afropessimism and its ability to combine a growing up (Black) memoir with Frank Wilderson’s own unerring and poetic interpretation of critical race theory to inexorably install in all the ways that only great story telling can the pithy truth that without Anti Blackness there would be no America. Can you handle that. Can I?”
Eileen Myles, poet and author of Chelsea Girls

“Frank B. Wilderson III both thinks and feels, and profoundly knows the difference. I am not sure that I agree with what he thinks, because frankly, how would I know? But I hope that he is wrong, even though I know that no thinking is wishful. Read this book.”
Fran Lebowitz

“What’s most important and so moving about Afropessimism is that Frank B. Wilderson III attends so carefully and devotedly to his own condition of possibility. The persistence of thinking such as Wilderson’s teaches us to believe in the miraculous even as we decry the brutalities out of which miracles emerge.”
Fred Moten

“Frank Wilderson slings piercing stories and scalding analyses with literary fire and intellectual rigor. His tales juke genre and high-step over high-theory mumbo jumbo, and float Franz Fanon some new wings. Like Ralph Ellison’s bluesman, he peers unflinching into the abyss, testifies to its brutal histories and hopeless predicaments, ‘to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not through the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.’ He ghostwrites our brutal pasts into present and still hopeless predicaments, yet divines deep love and blues humor. Even if our own hopes may live elsewhere, we cannot dismiss Afropessimism’s unnerving and undeniable truths, nor the timeless art of its author.”
Timothy B. Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till


Praise for Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

“An incredible piece of history, of Black life domestically and globally, written with brilliance, panache and delicious wit. He miraculously recapture[s] the fury, the funk and the sweetness of the ’60s–and its broken dreams… and bitter betrayals… He is truly a wonderful writer!”

– Mumia Abu-Jamal, author of We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party

“Into the wake of great literature fighting human bondage, Frank Wilderson pours Incognegro. And, like the offerings of Ellison, Fanon, Baldwin and Morrison, this revolutionary love story must be widely read, generously shared, and relentlessly engaged.”

 – Joy James, author of Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics


“Fast paced, critical, humorous, hilarious at times, Incognegro asks provocative questions about post-Apartheid South Africa and post-civil rights America with all the passion, the drama and the political clarity of a great autobiography. With perspectives from different times and places in the two continents, and with an unerring eye and ear for a telling detail and image, Frank Wilderson brings a novelistic and dramatic imagination to a story of our times. It is a multi-layered narrative of a life molded in struggles for human dignity in America and Africa, at once a gripping story of race politics and a biography of his soul.”

– Ngugi wa Thiong’o, author of The Wizard of the Crow


With Incognegro, “Wilderson has offered an important and groundbreaking story of the last days of apartheid. It is not the official history of the ANC…and it is not the “rainbow nation” narrative of reconciliation most often sought in the new South Africa…More than anything Incognegro teaches us that the fall of apartheid was not bloodless or peaceful, that the corruption of neo-colonialism inhabits South Africa still, and it invites us, wherever we are, inside or outside South Africa, to tear down ourselves to the very foundations.”

-Meta L. Schettler, Professor of Africana Studies, Cal State Fresno; author of Malibongwe: Personal Narratives of Women in the Armed Struggle in South Africa (Doctoral dissertation)


Incognegro is “an important contribution to the African and African American canons and a rare American work that bridges two cultures…Wilderson [will] become a major American writer. Mark my word.”

– Ishmael Reed, Novelist, Poet, and Publisher


Praise for Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms

“I have not read anything as striking as Red, White & Black in some time. In this unsettling work, Frank B. Wilderson III theorizes the singularity of anti-Blackness as he refines our understanding of how political economy, popular culture, and law are shot through with identification and desire, pleasure and pain, sexuality and aggression. Anti-Blackness, which is carefully distinguished here from White supremacy, is not only an ideology and an institutional practice; it is also a structure of feeling with pervasive effects. This last, crucial point is glossed over by too many authors in their haste to provide rational analyses of and challenges to racism.”

– Jared Sexton, author of Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism


“Red, White & Black challenges scholars of film, race, ethnicity, American studies, and cultural studies to rethink many of the assumptions that animate our work. Pairing analyses of film representations of U.S. racial antagonisms animated by images of Blacks with those that work through images of Indians provides a new and exciting critical framework. Red, White & Black provokes scholars to reckon with the political implications of Frank B. Wilderson’s call to think structures of Blackness, Whiteness, and Redness in the United States both in conjunction with and in contradistinction to each other.”

– Kara Keeling, author of The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense

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