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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Wrong Is Not My Name

Notes on (Black) Art

by (author) Erica N. Cardwell

The Feminist Press at CUNY
Initial publish date
Mar 2024
Personal Memoirs, Essays, Criticism & Theory
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2024
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A dazzling hybrid of personal memoir and criticism, considering the work of Black visual artists as a means to explore loss, legacy, and the reclamation of life through art.

At the age of twenty-one, Erica Cardwell finds herself in New York City, reeling from the loss of her mother and numb to the world around her. She turns inward instead, reading books and composing poetry, eventually falling into the work of artists such as Blondell Cummings, Lorna Simpson, Lorraine O’Grady, and Kara Walker. Through them, she communes with her mother’s spirit and legacy, and finds new ways to interrogate her writing and identity.

Wrong Is Not My Name weaves together autobiography, criticism, and theory, and considers how Black women create alternative, queer, and “hysterical” lives through visual culture and performance. In poetic, interdisciplinary essays—combining analytical and lyrical stream-of-consciousness—Cardwell examines archetypes such as the lascivious Jezebel, the caretaking Mammy, and the elusive Sapphire to formulate new and inventive ways to write about art.

Pioneering and inquisitive, Wrong Is Not My Name celebrates Black womanhood, and illuminates the ways in which art and storytelling reside at the core of being human.

About the author


  • Winner, New York State Council for the Arts Grant
  • Winner, Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant
  • Nominated, Pushcart Prize
  • Short-listed, Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize

Contributor Notes

Erica N. Cardwell is a writer, critic, and educator based in Brooklyn and Toronto. Cardwell’s teaching and writing consider the consciousness and imaginations of people of color as a tool for social, spiritual, and collective movement. She centers Black feminist theory as her primary critical approach, and often writes about print and paper-making practices, archival media, and interdisciplinary performance. Her writing has appeared in ARTS. BLACK, Artsy, Frieze, BOMB, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, CULTURED, Hyperallergic, C Mag, Art in America, and other publications. Cardwell has been awarded residencies and fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and the Queer Art Mentorship. She received her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and has taught for various institutions, such as Parsons School of Design at The New School, Barnard College, City University of New York, and the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency.

Editorial Reviews

"Mesmerizing." —Debutiful

Wrong Is Not My Name is an astounding work by a singular writer, critic, and artist, and it is a privilege to bear witness to Cardwell’s unconventional journey.” —BUST

“In interconnected essays, Cardwell celebrates the brilliant Black women who use art and storytelling to claim their place in the world.” The Millions

Wrong Is Not My Name is a tender, urgent examination of art, grief, and self. What’s on the museum wall takes on new life, as if Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series had a soundtrack. I loved being suspended in this smoker’s sense of time, wandering the galleries of New York with what felt, at times, like Baldwin’s lost daughter. Erica N. Cardwell peers into paintings at close range; her criticism has the intimacy of breath. This search for meaning is a means of enduring, an art in itself.” —Aisha Sabatini Sloan, author of Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit

“A syntactically gorgeous page-turner, Wrong Is Not My Name demonstrates the ways in which art provides us with language to inhabit ‘an archive of self and body, of consciousness,’ and the lived histories that animate new visions for ways of being in an often hostile world. Here is a necessary and unforgettable intervention in the field of criticism that also doubles as a powerful narrative of self-unmaking. Erica N. Cardwell’s critical memoir sneaks up on you with insights both tender and incisive.” —Raquel Gutiérrez, author of Brown Neon

“To be a critic is to contend with dozens of expectations regarding what it means to experience art and how such an experience should be grappled with for a public audience. To be a critic is to contend with the idea that somehow this kind of work is always finding its end—perpetually in crisis or consistently irrelevant, depending on one’s perspective. But when I read the essays that comprise Wrong Is Not My Name: Notes on (Black) Art, I am reminded that a critic can also be a person chasing after themselves and their histories, mapping the coordinates between love and pleasure, mourning and reawakening. To be a critic, as Erica N. Cardwell’s writing teaches me, is to (re)negotiate a mode of relation that foregrounds the intimacies that shape who we have been and who we are so that we might learn to ask the difficult, complex questions about who we are becoming. She does this, of course, in the lineage and tradition of the Black women writers and artists who have preceded her: Blondell Cummings, Barbara Christian, and Willarena, her mother. Maybe then, what I want everyone to know, is that this is a book not merely about the conditions that surround the tasks of art criticism. But that this is a book that invites its readers to peer closely at themselves, to trace the linings of life’s griefs and joys, and to call forth the names of our people. Each act one of refuge, restoration, and art itself.” —Jessica Lynne, cofounder of ARTS.BLACK

Wrong Is Not My Name invites readers on a journey through Erica N. Cardwell’s passionate and brilliant mind to explore what it means for the Black artist to look and envision against a white gaze, and what it means for a daughter to inherit her mother’s legacy. Cardwell reminds us throughout these essays that loss and dispossession are intimately entangled with the will to live and create, and in so doing, reveals the generative potential of grief. This is a book that I will return to again and again for its beautiful writing as much as for its wisdom and provocations.” —Grace M. Cho, author of Tastes Like War