'My Pinup' by Professor Hilton Als Out Now

Jessie Shohfi
December 16, 2022

My Pinup, a two-part memoir from Associate Professor Hilton Als, was recently released from New Directions Publishing. 

My Pinup, which follows Als’ relationship with the artist and icon Prince, originated as an article for Harper’s Magazine. The article was published in 2012, four years before Prince’s all too early passing. This updated work explores Als’ love for the artist, from his discovery of Prince’s music, to Als’ first professional meeting with him, to the myriad ways Prince, his music, and his cultural impact have guided and affected Als’ own life. 

In one moving section of the book, Als recounts the moment when Prince asks him to write a book about him, inviting Als to live at Paisley Park in Minneapolis while he completes the project. Als turns down the offer, instead returning to a partner in New York who, in many ways, reminds him of Prince. He writes, “I inched closer to him as he danced to you, Prince. But already he was you, Prince, in my mind. He had the same coloring, and the same loneliness I wanted to fill with my admiration. I couldn’t love him enough. We were colored boys together. There is not enough of that in the world, Prince—but you know that. Still, when other people see that kind of fraternity they want to kill it. But we were so committed to each other, we never could work out what that violence meant. There was so much love between us. Why didn’t anyone want us to share it?”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books Radio Hour, host Eric Newman asks Als, “What prompted you to start thinking about Prince in the way you do in My Pinup?” Als responds, “[My] exchange with him wasn’t a conventional interview. It was more like sitting around and sort of vibing on each other. One of the things I wanted to convey, which was unusual, was his interest in me, which made it an unconventional piece of journalism. But also I wanted to remember that feeling of a great American artist and how they really work almost completely on intuition. I loved that he was interested in me, and very much involved in wanting the approval of Black men in particular. You always forget that, when someone has that kind of power and that kind of renown, that they are human and wanting to connect, which is one of the reasons that they’re making art—they really want to connect to other people. He wanted to connect to me, and it was very touching.” 

The book has received critical acclaim, with praise from major media outlets. Publishers Weekly states, “Don’t be fooled by the page count, Als conjures entire worlds between these covers. Readers are sure to find pleasure and pain in this bite-size delight.” A glowing review from Ploughshares asks, “Who could be a better guide to Prince—to his polymorphous sexuality, his gleeful dismantling of the racial compartmentalization of American popular music, his seemingly effortless sprezzatura as a performer—than Hilton Als?”

My Pinup is available for purchase now

Recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Hilton Als became a staff writer at The New Yorker in October 1994, and a theatre critic in 2002. He began contributing to the magazine in 1989, writing pieces for “The Talk of the Town.” Before coming to The New Yorker, Als was a staff writer for the Village Voice and an editor-at-large at Vibe. He has also written articles for The Nation and collaborated on film scripts for Swoon and Looking for Langston. Als edited the catalogue for the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition entitled Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, which ran from November 1994 to March 1995. His first book, The Women, a meditation on gender, race, and personal identity, was published in 1996. His previous book, White Girls, discusses various narratives around race and gender. In 1997, the New York Association of Black Journalists awarded Als first prize in both Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment. He was awarded a Guggenheim for Creative Writing in 2000 and the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 2002-03. In 2009, Als worked with the performer Justin Bond on Cold Water, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and videos by performers, at La MaMa Gallery. In 2010, he co-curated Self-Consciousness at the Veneklasen Werner Gallery in Berlin, and published Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis, his second book. Als has taught at Yale University, Wesleyan, and Smith College. He lives in New York City.