Author Interview: Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

In Four Hundred Souls, a chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present—edited by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, and Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire. We spoke with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Dr. Keisha N. Blain about the inspiration for Four Hundred Souls, their audiobook recommendations, and more!

“Two leading scholars of Black culture gather writers from across genres in this provocative, stirring anthology on the traumas and triumphs of African Americans across four centuries. From journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones on Jamestown’s first slaves to historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s portrait of Sally Hemings to the seductive cadences of poets Jericho Brown and Patricia Smith, Four Hundred Souls weaves a tapestry of unspeakable suffering and unexpected transcendence.”

O: The Oprah Magazine

What inspired the book:

In late 2018, as our nation approached the 400-year mark of captive Africans landing in Virginia, Dr. Kendi wanted to try to capture this long and complex history. He reached out to Dr. Blain, and they tapped a community of Black leaders, scholars, and activists to record a rich, communal history of African America. Their commitment to a communal approach, in the spirit of Black History, led to the book’s inclusion of 80 contributors and 10 poets—in order to honor the many voices of Black America.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

Our approach to Black History will surprise listeners. Four Hundred Souls contains a diversity of thought and style that we think is unparalleled.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

Blain: The narration is so powerful! As part of the editing process, we read these essays until they were so familiar to us—but hearing them aloud takes them to another level.

Kendi: I agree with Dr. Blain. I am so moved by the choir of voices that brought these essays to life.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

Kendi: Yes. I listen to audio books each morning when I work out. I have too many favorite audiobooks to name.

Blain: I recommend The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois. There are a few different editions, and I suggest people go with the narrator they enjoy the most. I would also suggest David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom and Cicely Tyson’s Just As I Am: A Memoir.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

Blain: I don’t think I would have much of a career as a writer were it not for the support of independent bookstores. When I released my first solo authored book in 2018, my first invitation came from an indie bookstore. They offered a platform for me to share my ideas as a new writer and have supported me ever since.

Kendi: Local independent bookstores help carry and usher our books into the world. I remember speaking on How to Be an Antiracist at Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith. These were memorable events. And now, I call Boston my home. What a full circle.

Header photo of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi by Stephen Voss

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