The 2021 Pop Convergence: A Virtual Pop Conference, April 22-25th
Artwork by Alex Nero; Design by The Art Dictator
avatar for C Liegh McInnis

C Liegh McInnis

Psychedelic Literature
Poet and Short Story Writer
Jackson, Mississippi
The Art of Double Disruption: How Prince Worked in the Tradition of Jean Toomer and
Richard Wright to Rebel Simultaneously against White Supremacy and Black Self-Limitation

In 1944, Harper and Brothers accepted Richard Wright's autobiography, American Hunger, for publication that fall. However, the Book of the Month Club, which was the most influential entity for American book sales, requested that Wright remove the second half of the book because it did not paint a favorable portrait of northern whites. While East coast white liberal elites could support Wright's negative portrayal of southern whites, they were not about to allow Wright to critique their failings. With pressure from Harper and Brothers, Wright agreed to remove the Chicago section and focus on his early life in Mississippi, retitling the work Black Boy. The full original text was published forty-seven years later in 1991, taking decades for a black artist to present his uncensored and unabridged truth about American life. Yet, Black Boy and Wright have received criticism from liberal whites and many African Americans, including one Afrofuturist scholar who declared that "Richard Wright hates black people,'' during a conference. At the core of this double critique is Wright's determination and courage to critique both white supremacy and Black ineptitude or Black self-limitation.

Similarly, in the tradition of Wright, Prince spent his career simultaneously troping and subverting stereotypes, projections, and limitations as a way to agitate for change through disruption. Ultimately, Prince, like Wright, who has been accused of being a sellout by Black fans and a racist by white fans, demonstrated that he was more than what most whites can conceive of a black person to be and even more than what many African Americans can conceive for themselves.

Using his lyrics, interviews, and the interviews of others, this paper shows that Prince disrupted how popular music perpetuates the systematic flattening and limitation of African American humanity.

C. Liegh McInnis is a poet, short story writer, essayist, author of eight books, former editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, Prince scholar, and an English instructor at Jackson State University. He is also a former First Runner-Up of the Amiri Baraka/Sonia Sanchez Poetry Award sponsored by North Carolina State A&T. He is also the author of The Lyrics of Prince and Brother Hollis: The Sankofa of a Movement Man.