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The Crown Ain’t Worth Much — Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s Columbus Opus

The Crown Ain’t Worth Much — Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s Columbus Opus

614now Staff

I first met Hanif during one of his countless nights hosting an open-mic poetry set at a local cafe here in Columbus. This was over 7 years ago. He’d call his performance awkward but it rarely was — he’d stand on stage and introduce people he’d never met (or met several minutes prior to introducing them) in a kind, warm way — “you’re with good company” was always the vibe he put out there.

From that night where I read on stage, I felt what Hanif has spent the last three years writing about in his new, critically acclaimed book, “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” — community. He is exceptionally good at bringing people together for a thing, whether it’s reading and writing poetry, a strange beef he had with a Gyro vender on High St. — something I remember fondly — or just talking about The Smiths. He was always present, open and eager to talk, passionately about…pretty much anything.

Since those days he’s started a job writing for MTV, delivering some legit music journalism, trying his best to talk about Columbus music and most recently writing for the VMAs, something he candidly said, “would never do again.”

Hanif has had things going on all week, culminating in a Columbus specific book release show on Friday at Roy G Biv. The book came out nationally on July 21st, but Hanif wanted to host something here in his home city.

“The book is broken up in four sections. It feels like a memoir in some ways, but it’s not. It’s not all nonfiction. The first section is me as a child, the second section is me, or a character like me as a college-aged person. The third section details a lot of the anxiety I had about marriage…and the fourth section I wrote entirely during the Baltimore uprising. It’s rooted in protest and resistance, through the lens of gentrification.”

On his first release show in New York, Hanif details the DIY vibe that just kind of happened.

“The first release show was in New York and that was…great. We had a gallery space that had like…a rooftop you could walk out on so I did the last poem on the roof but then I had to sell the books out of the trunk of my car. We were too long in the space and kicked us out. So people lined up to buy books out of my car. It felt very Columbus. It was cool.”

Hanif has been surprised by the interest in his book, and the passion surrounding the release.

“I really wanted to do a Columbus release show first but the dates just didn’t work out. So I feel like on Friday when we do the release it’ll feel like the book is really alive in the world. It was important for me to do something here because the book — more than just being ‘Inspired by Columbus’, there’s just alot of Columbus geography inside of the book. I write about the city.”

There’s going to be ten Columbus poets that open the show at Roy G Biv — the list so far is a who’s who of Columbus poets, ones that Hanif feels made the book and his work possible. William Evans / Rachel Wiley / David Winter / Samanosuke Tenyanami /Aaron Al / Dave Nichols / Fayce Hammond / Ethan Rivera


Hanif’s book is about growing, the pains of growing and to a specific degree the pains of Columbus’s growth. “The book centers on gentrification and the generational impacts of gentrification in Columbus — specifically the east side which does not look like the east side I grew up in.”

You can experience The Crown Ain’t Worth Much during its release show, this Friday at ROY G BIV. Show starts at 7pm.

There will be cake.

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism has been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, and The New York Times. He has been nominated for the pushcart prize, and his poem “Hestia” won the 2014 Capital University poetry prize. His first full length collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released in 2016 from Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press. He is a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow, an interviewer at Union Station Magazine, and a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine. He is a member of the poetry collective Echo Hotel with poet/essayist Eve Ewing.




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