Sunday, February 24, 2019

Greg Tate, Essays, and Book History

Greg Tate has to be one of our greatest essayists, right? He's unquestionably an wildly audacious and inventive writer. If there's any doubt, you could take a look at his books Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992) and Flyboy 2 (2016), which collect many of his articles.

Overall, there has been relatively little scholarship on the essay as a form. Just recently, Cheryl A. Wall published On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The Art of the African American Essay (2019). Hopefully, Wall's work will inspire further studies of a form of writing that is integral and pervasive yet nonetheless understudied on its own.

When and if we do advance studies of essays, Tate's work will likely become vital objects of inquiry. His turns of phrases, his energetic writing, his multiple allusions, his densely packed individual paragraphs. The very style of his works, well beyond simply the content or what his essays are about, signal a tremendous intellect and creator.

Tate attracted large followings when he was publishing in The Village Voice from 1987 - 2005. However, I suspect many new readers will discover his work as a whole through Flyboy and Flyboy 2. Books often serve as storage devices and galleries for works that initially appeared in newspapers and magazines.

Such is the case with Tate's essays. His books make the writings available to us in one place, perhaps giving us a clearer sense of the interconnectivity of his creative output. While he first earned widespread notice through the production of essays, issues pertaining to Book History might determine the extents to which new readers encounter his past writings.     

Black Book History, February 2019

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