Mansbach is back

By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  January 11, 2013


Prior to the meme-tastic success of last year's Go the Fuck to Sleep (Akashic Books), Adam Mansbach had written two acclaimed novels about race and culture. Now the 36-year-old Newton-native returns with a third. Rage Is Back (Viking), is Mansbach's first work since Sleep (not counting the Samuel L. Jackson/Obama piece, Wake the Fuck Up). With its hyper-verbal view into the hip-hop culture near to the author's heart, Rage Is Back is masterfully verbose. Mansbach explores the trials of a mystically stoned college drop-out who has discovered that his long-absent father, a legend of the NYC graffiti scene, might actually be alive.

Aside from obvious things like being part of a presidential campaign and having members of Wu-Tang Clan read on your audiobook, what happened when to your life since Go the Fuck to Sleep became such a massive success? The answer keeps evolving. At the time that Go the Fuck to Sleep began making noise I was living in Philadelphia, I had a teaching job as a visiting professor but that was about to end. I was going to have to move back to California. What it's really done is give me the liberty to take projects based on my passion and not have to be too concerned about looking over my shoulder.

What was your honest expectation of how Sleep would do? My memory is of having no expectations at all. I was tickled at the very notion that it was going to be published — this book that I wrote in one afternoon and with that title. That was just hilarious to me. However, I recently have been re-reading some old emails that I exchanged with Johnny Temple (of Akashic Books), and I said something in this email that the audience for this book is every parent in the world — so maybe I had some inkling here that this was an idea that was going to catch.

The graffiti writers in Rage Is Back are depicted a little bit as Robin Hoods fighting the good fight against authority, even though their work keeps being covered up, or worse — ignored. What sticks with me is the notion that these guys invented something, watched it go worldwide, and watched it go extinct. These guys are forced to live in their past. It was their era. Can I add how much fun it is to make up names for graffiti writers? I could do that shit all day.

Your young narrator isn't just immersed in hip-hop culture. He riffs on everything from the sacred (Agamemnon) to the profane (Billy Joel lyrics). Is nothing is off-limits? All my life people have been telling me that it's unrealistic for characters to do what they just did — that people who listen to rap music are incapable of reading the Western canon. It's really important for me to reflect the reality of everybody I know, whether they are my age or half my age. Hip-hop is a culture of collage — whatever it's picking up, whether it be highfalutin Western art or a cheesy song lyric.

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