Hokum An Anthology of African-American Humor

Paul Beatty

Bloomsbury USA




480 Pages



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From Sojourner Truth to Colson Whitehead, Hokum is a testament to the powerful tradition of humor in African-American writing. Paul Beatty compares his anthology to a mix tape dubbed by a trusted friend—a sampler of underground classics, rare grooves, and timeless summer jams, poetry and prose juxtaposed with the blues, hip-hop, political speeches, and the world's funniest radio sermon. The subtle musings of Toni Cade Bambara, Henry Dumas, and Harryette Mullen are bracketed by the profane and often loud ruminations of Langston Hughes, Darius James, Wanda Coleman, Tish Benson, Steve Cannon, and Hattie Gossett.

Some of the funniest writers don't write, Beatty points out, so included are selections from well-known yet unliterary wits Lightnin' Hopkins, Mike Tyson, and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Selections also come from public figures and authors whose humor, although incisive and profound, is often overlooked: Malcolm X, Suzan-Lori Parks, Zora Neale Hurston, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Hokum is an anthology for any student of American writing, and a primer on the uses of humor.


Praise for Hokum

"Paul Beatty is an uncategorizable underground hero with a loyal, loud, smack-talking cult following. A native Angeleno who long ago relocated to New York, he draws on the idiosyncrasies of both regions—the more peculiar or out there, the better. His comic-book-hued portraits of city life are turned up high in the mix, always threatening to blow out the speakers. No one is safe in his sights. He refuses to color within the lines . . . No matter how far-fetched or absurd the situation—in Tuff, an African American rabbi mentors the 320-pound son of a man who is both Beat poet and Black Panther—Beatty's gift has always been his ability to toss off sly details that serve as searing punch lines. He knows that incongruity and absurdity are the true grit of life . . . [In Hokum,] Beatty's reach is broad and borderless . . . It is all over the map, intentionally so, a work of cultural exploration rather than a collection of one-liners and gags . . . This is what makes the collection feel not just unusual but fresh, a prism through which the world is viewed . . . Collectively, the pieces here also work on an unanticipated level, exploring and expanding the range of blackness and multiplicity . . . He's quick, wry and devilishly dead-on, playing with tropes, kicking around stereotypes and outmoded beliefs like noisy, rusty cans."—Los Angeles Times

"Insightful . . . an enlightening gumbo . . . an effective ode to the often overlooked tradition and legacy of poignant humor in African-American culture."—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"This incredible collection is eclectic in both form and content. From the funniest fiction, theater, folktales, and poetry, all the way to comedy routines, bits from movies, political speeches, and even rap lyrics, the very best of African-American humor is captured between two covers."—Tucson Citizen

"[A] varied mix of fiction, folktales, comedy skits, political satire and more . . . Not everything is laugh-out-loud funny; some of it is just food for thought with a humorous bent. Three stars out of 4 stars."—Detroit Free Press

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Paul Beatty

  • Paul Beatty is the author of three novels, Tuff, The White Boy Shuffle, and The Sellout, and two books of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, and he is a recipient of an Arts and Letters Award in Literature. He lives in New York City.

  • Paul Beatty Photo Credit: Hannah Assouline