Farah Jasmine Griffin is the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University where she also served as the inaugural Chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department. She is the author of five books including Who Set You Flowin?: The African American Migration Narrative (1995), If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (2001), Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (with Salim Washington, 2008), and Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (2013).
Farah Jasmine Griffin has taken to her heart the phrase “read until you understand,” a line her father, who died when she was nine, wrote in a note to her. She has made it central to this book about love of the majestic power of words and love of the magnificence of Black life. Griffin entwines memoir, history, and art while she keeps her finger on the pulse of the present, asking us to grapple with the continuing struggle for Black freedom and the ongoing project that is American democracy. She challenges us to reckon with our commitment to all the nation’s inhabitants and our responsibilities to all humanity. Griffin has spent years rooted in the culture of Black genius and the legacy of books that her father left her.