A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid

By Frank B. Wilderson, III

South End Press, Paperback, 9780896087835, 498pp.

Publication Date: August 2008


" Frank B.] Wilderson will] become a major American writer. Mark my word."--Ishmael Reed

In 1995, a South African journalist informed Frank B. Wilderson, one of only two American members of the African National Congress (ANC), that President Nelson Mandela considered him "a threat to national security." Wilderson was asked to comment. "Incognegro" is that "comment." It is also his response to a question posed five years later by a student in a California university classroom: "How come you came back?"

Although Wilderson recollects his turbulent life as an expatriate in South Africa during the furious last gasps of apartheid, "Incognegro" is at heart a quintessentially American story. During South Africa's transition, Wilderson taught at universities in Johannesburg and Soweto by day. By night, he helped the ANC coordinate clandestine propaganda, launch psychological warfare, and more. In his mesmerizing political memoir, Wilderson's lyrical prose flows from his childhood in the white Minneapolis enclave "integrated" by his family to a rebellious adolescence at the student barricades in Berkeley and under tutelage of the Black Panther Party; from unspeakable dilemmas in the red dust and ruin of South Africa to his return to political battles raging quietly on US campuses and in his intimate life. Readers will find themselves suddenly overtaken by the subtle but resolute force of Wilderson's biting wit, rare vulnerability, and insistence on bearing witness to history no matter the cost.

A literary tour de force sure to spark fierce debate in both America and South Africa, "Incognegro" retells a story most Americans assume we already know, with a sometimes awful, but ultimately essential clarity about racial politics and our own lives.

Frank B. Wilderson, III is the award-winning author of "Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms" (Duke UP) and the director of "Reparations . . . Now.