Self Portrait in Black and White | Sontag / by Daniel Oppenheimer

Over at Tablet Magazine I review Thomas Chatterton Williams’s new book, Self Portrait in Black and White. It’s a lovely book, and one of the rare works, I think, that slices the cake of race in a fresh way. I write.

Losing My Cool was a provocative book, much blunter about the toxicity of certain aspects of contemporary young black masculinity than one typically gets from young black writers, but it left in place the conventional premise that being a proud, self-identified black person was the obvious goal for someone like Williams. Self-Portrait rejects the premise. It argues, in a way that could be banal but in fact is fascinating, that the whole project of defining people as black and white (and brown and red and yellow) is bankrupt, and that the extraordinary work that black people have done digging themselves out from under the mountain of slavery, segregation, and discrimination has opened up a small but slowly widening escape route to other kinds of existences. And they should take it.

Over at Kirkus Reviews I interview Benjamin Moser, the author of a new biography of Susan Sontag. I liked that book a lot too, and enjoyed talking to Moser. I particularly enjoyed this story, which is basically every nonfiction writer’s fantasy.

On February 25, 2012, Benjamin Moser got an email with the subject heading: REALLY BIG QUESTION. He opened it, and it was indeed a really big question. Susan Sontag’s son, along with her agent and publisher, wanted to know if Moser was interested in writing the authorized biography of the legendary intellectual, who died of leukemia in 2004.