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I Just Keep Talking—A Life in Essays

· Book Tour 2024 — New Events   · Purchase   · Synopsis   · Interviews   · Reviews   · Praise   · Contacts   · About Nell Irvin Painter

I just keep talking book  dust cover with spine
I Just Keep Talking—A Life in Essays by Nell Irvin Painter.
Jacket art: Self-Portrait 11 (2010) by Nell Irvin Painter; Jacket design by John Fontana;, 4/2024
Click here for a larger image of I Just Keep Talking’s dust cover.

I Just Keep Talking Nell Irvin Painter BOOK TOUR — upcoming events*

Date City/State Venue Time
June 2, 2024 Essex, NY (Whallonsburg, NY) Whallonsburg Grange Lyceum—An Afternoon with Nell Irvin Painter 2 pm–4 pm
June 9, 2024 Northampton, MA (130 Pine St, Florence, MA 01062) Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity—Nell Irvin Painter in Conversation with Lisa Baskin 2 pm
June 23, 2024 Narrowsburg, New York (Tusten Theatre, 210 Bridge St.) Deep Water Literary Fest with Janus Adams
1 pm–2 pm
August 10, 2024 East Hampton, NY (Herrick Park, 67 Newtown Lane) East Hampton Library's Authors Night 2024 — A Literary Celebration (Outdoors under a grand tent at Herrick Park in the middle of the Village of East Hampton) 5–7:30 pm

*See each event link for tickets, prices, directions, and additional details.

· Purchase   · Synopsis  · Interviews  · Reviews  · Praise  · Contacts  · About Nell Irvin Painter

The Washington Post reviews I Just Keep Talking: "Nell Irvin Painter’s understanding of America is beautiful and bracing. We should listen."

Washington Post review of IJKT

The New York Times reviews I Just Keep Talking: "She Wrote ‘The History of White People.’ She Has a Lot More to Say."

NYT: She Wrote ‘The History of White People.’ She Has a Lot More to Say

Time magazine: "Here Are the 12 New Books You Should Read in April" includes I Just Keep Talking

Time magazine - Here Are the 12 New Books You Should Read in April

Nell Painter photo by Dwight Carter, I Just Keep Talking dust jacket

I Just Keep Talking—A Life in Essays by Nell Irvin Painter.
Nell’s newest book (to be published April 23, 2024 by Doubleday) is a comprehensive new collection of essays spanning art, politics, and the legacy of racism that shapes American history as we know it.

I Just Keep Talking assembles her writing for the first time into a single volume, displaying the breadth and depth of Painter’s decades-long historical inquiry and the evolution of Black political thought—and includes a dazzling new introduction and coda. Along with Painter’s writing, this collection features her original artwork, threaded throughout the book as counterpoint.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. praise for I Just Keep Talking

Purchase I Just Keep Talking
See the order links on Doubleday:
(Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million,, Hudson Booksellers, Powell's, Target, Walmart).

Also available as an Audiobook from many audiobook retailers: see Penguin Random House Audio for links.

Synopsis from Dust Jacket

From the New York Times bestselling author of The History of White People and Old in Art School, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, comes a comprehensive new collection of essays spanning art, politics, and the legacy of racism that shapes American history as we know it.

David Blight praise for I Just Keep Talking

Throughout her prolific writing career, Nell Irvin Painter has published works on such luminaries as Sojourner Truth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Malcolm X. Her unique vantage on American history pushes the boundaries of personal narrative and academic authorship. Led by an unbridled curiosity for her subjects, Painter asks readers to reconsider ideas of race, politics, and identity. I Just Keep Talking assembles her writing for the first time into a single volume, displaying the breadth and depth of Painter’s decades-long historical inquiry and the evolution of Black political thought—and includes a dazzling new introduction and coda. From her mining of figures like Carrie Buck and Martin Delany for their resonance today, to a deep dive into the history of exclusion through the work of Toni Morrison, to a discussion of the American political landscape after the 2016 election, Painter nimbly portrays the trials of a country frequently at war with itself.

Along with Painter’s writing, this collection features her original artwork, threaded throughout the book as counterpoint. Her visual art shows a deft mind that contemplates the tragedy and humor of her subjects; pulling from newspapers, personal records, and original sketches, Painter’s artwork testifies to the dialectic of tremendous change and stasis that continues to shape American history.

These essays resist easy answers in favor of complexity, the inescapable sense of our country’s potential being thwarted by its failures. I Just Keep Talking will surely solidify Painter’s place among the finest critics and writers of the last century.



Praise for I Just Keep Talking—A Life in Essays

Imani Perry praise for I Just Keep Talking

"Nell Irvin Painter is one of the most versatile American historians of the last half century. This stunning array of essays, following on her earlier memoir of turning to art, contains a potent autobiographical sizzle from introduction to end. She settles scores, shows her brilliant chops as a historian devoted to specifics and to the uniqueness of Southern history, and ranges into politics, social affairs, identity, and whiteness, and finally her own turn to visual art. Prolific, provocative, and with a voice all her own, Painter reveals with admirable vulnerability a mind in transit through time."
—DAVID W. BLIGHT, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

"Nell Irvin Painter is one of the most important, influential, and prolific historians of the United States…I Just Keep Talking is a gorgeously written journey through her life, from her birth as a daughter of the great migration to her retirement from academe and beyond…Readers will learn a great deal about the country and just as much about how to craft a life of purpose and joy."
—IMANI PERRY, National Book Award–winning author of South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation

Margo Jefferson praise for I Just Keep Talking

"Nell Irvin Painter is a historian, a journalist, and a visual artist. Whatever her subject—race, gender, class, art, politics—she finds the surprising complication [and] ponders the unresolved question. Race, she writes, is ‘an ongoing discourse.’ So is this vibrant, compelling book."
—MARGO JEFFERSON, National Book Critics Circle Award winner and author of Constructing a Nervous System

"Consistently brilliant, restlessly curious, and profoundly empathetic, Nell Irvin Painter’s voice is simply indispensable. This decades-spanning collection pulls together some of her most elegant, engaged, and urgent work. With a historian’s sense of context and a poet’s gift of language, she lays bare truths we’ve collectively ignored and points us toward the democratic possibilities we have yet to realize."
—JELANI COBB, dean of the Columbia Journalism School and author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress

Jelani Cobb praise for I Just Keep Talking

"Give thanks that Nell Irvin Painter won’t stop talking—and thinking and writing and bringing the truth. And give thanks for these sage words on art, on history, on Blackness, on America, on survival from this bone-strong woman who keeps on keeping on, in glorious insistence."
—HONORÉE FANONNE JEFFERS, author of The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois

"Nell Irvin Painter has never minced words. Here, as she puts it, she keeps talking—in essays and artwork ranging from the 1980s to our own fraught moment, in explorations of Blackness and Whiteness, of the past and the present, of the verbal and the visual. This is a book filled with four decades of insights from one of America’s most important historians. We all need to listen—and to see."
—DREW GILPIN FAUST, author of Necessary Trouble and former president of Harvard University

"I Just Keep Talking reads like an intellectual adventure story. Nell Irvin Painter moves from Oakland to Ghana, Harvard, Princeton, and—late in the game—art school, grappling with subjects ranging from Southern plantation gender relations and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Viking obsession to the founding of MoMA and the real meaning of MAGA. She writes that readers may be ‘amused’ by her book’s title and what it suggests about her persistence; just as likely, it will leave them wanting to hear more."


Published by Doubleday,
Also available from Penguin Random House Audio

About Nell Irvin Painter

NELL IRVIN PAINTER, Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, Princeton University, is the author of books of history including the New York Times bestseller The History of White People; Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol; and the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2007, she has received honorary degrees from Yale, Wesleyan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dartmouth. After earning a PhD in history from Harvard, she also completed degrees in painting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and the Rhode Island School of Design. Painter lives and works in East Orange, New Jersey, and has made artist’s books in residencies such as MacDowell, Yaddo, Ucross, and Bogliasco. She currently serves as Madam Chairman of MacDowell.

I Just Keep Talking—A Life in Essays was published in April 2024. New editions of two older books were also released in April 2024: Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol 2nd ed.; and Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 3rd ed.

The American Academy in Berlin announced Nell Irvin Painter has been selected as a Fall 2024 Berlin Prize Fellow for the 2024-25 academic year.

Reviews—Full Text

Kirkus Reviews
I Just Keep Talking—A Life in Essays [STARRED REVIEW]

Author: Nell Irvin Painter

Review Issue Date: March 1, 2024
Online Publish Date: February 3, 2024
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 464
Price ( Hardcover ): $35.00
Publication Date: April 23, 2024
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 9780385548908
Section: NonFiction

The distinguished academic offers astute perspectives on America, past and present.

Painter, author of Old in Art School and The History of White People, gathers more than 40 previously published essays, framed by a new introduction and coda, reflecting her shrewd analyses of issues including race, class, and gender; history and historiography; police brutality and poverty; art, education, and politics. Painter, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a family of "proud progressives," was part of a diverse student body at UC Berkeley. "My Blackness isn’t broken," she writes. "It faces a different way. Mine is a Blackness of solidarity, a community, a connectedness to other people who aren’t known personally, of seeing myself as part of other people, other Black people." Her connectedness has led her to reveal "real hurt, real blood, real trauma" in her writing, whether debunking the mythology surrounding Sojourner Truth, examining the way Spike Lee reinvented Malcolm X for his movie, or uncovering the stereotypes that undermined Anita Hill. Some pieces assess the work of other historians—e.g., she critiques Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, a book she otherwise admires, for "its virtual neglect of gender." Gender and class are central to Painter’s portrayal of Mary Quinn Sullivan, the youngest and least-known founder of the Museum of Modern Art. Throughout, Painter confronts divisive questions, such as affirmative action and reparations, about which she has this suggestion: "First every Black person should have his or her own therapist for life, because dealing with this society is enough to make you crazy. Second, every White person should have to live two months as Black." The author has many significant thoughts about the 2016 election, which colorized voting as Black, and about the future of democracy. Painter complements her essays with her artwork.

A vibrant, insightful collection from an indispensable voice.

Publishers Weekly Review [STARRED REVIEW]
I Just Keep Talking: A Life in Essays

Nell Irvin Painter. Doubleday, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-385-54890-8

This brilliant compendium by Princeton University historian Painter (The History of White People) brings together previously published writings on American history, politics, and whiteness from throughout her career. Several pieces explore the legacy of slavery, including a 2000 introduction to Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in which Painter argues that the 1861 autobiography’s descriptions of sexual abuse at the hands of Jacobs’s master made the book one of the first to address the gendered impact of slavery. Decades-old selections remain insightful and timely. For instance, contemporary debates over school history curricula echo in a 1982 essay exploring how white scholars’ opposition to studies celebrating Black resistance have led to racist textbook portrayals of Black people as dependent on whites. Drawing illuminating historical parallels to the present, the 2022 essay "From 1872 to 1876 in the Space of One Year" likens the post–George Floyd racial reckoning to the promise of Reconstruction, but warns that calls for Democrats to "jettison voting rights in order to court White voters without college degrees" risks repeating the tragedy of the "Redemption" era, which rolled back Black civil rights starting in the late 1870s. Razor-sharp analysis lights up every page, and the bountiful images of multimedia artwork by Painter add a personal touch. This affirms Painter’s reputation as a historian and political commentator par excellence.
Photos. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie. (Apr.) Reviewed on: 02/08/2024; Genre: Nonfiction

Interviews and Reviews—Additional Details, Images, Quotes

Washington Post review. Here is an image of Nell's art from the Washington Post review.

Back Man 1, 2011. Art by Nell Painter
Back Man 1, 2011. Art by Nell Painter (when she was a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Political Junkie podcast. Claire Potter interviews Nell Painter in "Episode 53: Nobody Else Has My Eyes." Nell returns to the show with a new collection of her work, I Just Keep Talking: A Life in Essays (Doubleday, 2024). April 26, 2024. Audio; written transcript.

Claire Potter says of the book "This curated collection of essays is beautifully illustrated with the questions, visual observations, and imaginative renderings that scholarship alone cannot properly address. The book is autobiographical, it is scholarly, and it is beautiful: Painter has truly taken the practice of history to a new level."

Sojourner Truth, 2022. Art by Nell Painter
Sojourner Truth, 2022. Art by Nell Painter.

Quote from end of the podcast transcript:

Claire Potter: So this is how I end every podcast is by asking my guest, why should we read this book now?

Nell: And you should read this book now because this book will give you a way of seeing your, our world through my eyes and nobody else has my eyes.
I am a black person of a certain age, so I have lived through a lot, and I have done a lot of research, and I think having the past in mind gives me and readers a way of understanding the world around us now, our society, and maybe even our economy, but certainly our politics, in a way you couldn't see if you were not looking through my eyes.

The Modern Art Notes Podcast, April 11, 2024. Tyler Green interviews Nell Painter in Episode No. 649 of The Modern Art Notes Podcast. Nell's section starts at 47:30 into the podcast. The wide-ranging interview discussed Nell's new book of essays I Just Keep Talking; Alma Thomas; American museums; and Nell's art—specifically the two pieces below from the new book; and Stephen Colbert.

Self-Portrait Normal, Self-Portrait Triptych   Emerson’s English Traits with $100 Reward
Left: Self-Portrait Normal, Self-Portrait Triptych, 2011; right: Emerson’s English Traits with $100 Reward, 2022