Talking to Reginald McKnight is like scanning an imaginary worldwide radio dial. At any given moment he can transform his pleasant speaking voice into a raspy, aged, Middle Eastern-by-way-of-New York accent - or a deep Southern drawl. In an instant he can switch from a precise West African dialect to hip, urban street lingo, and then effortlessly segue back to his normal voice. McKnight says he "hit the ground running" as a mimic, and his talent was broadened as he lived all over the United States as the son of an Air Force sergeant. His time spent on the road - including a year-long visit to Senegal as a young man - brought him into contact with many different voices, and those voices erupt occasionally to illustrate his conversations. While many people are able to imitate orally the voices they hear, McKnight also translates these voices into narrative. He allows these voices to tell their own stories, stories that explore race in the United States as well as race in Africa. In McKnight's fiction, "multiculturalism" is as likely to mean a clash of cultures between black people as it is between black and white people.
Copyright © 2007, Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in African American Review 35:3 (2001), 427-437.
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Ashe, Bertram D. ""Under the Umbrella of Black Civilization": A Conversation with Reginald McKnight." African American Review 35, no. 3 (2001): 427-37.