BHM ’21: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi. Coates. If you know anything about how I feel about his work, then you know that for me, his name certainly has a *drops mic* effect. He’s an author I mention as inspiration in every writing or literature course I enroll in. I first discovered Coates my freshman year of college when my English class watched one of his interviews. I was blown by his intellect and poise.

Coates is a Baltimore, Maryland native who attended Howard University. Currently, he lives in New York City where he is a writer in residence at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. I read Coates’ essays for several years before I ever read one of his books. He’s primarily the author who got me into reading The Atlantic, a publication where he spent several years as a national correspondent. Here, he penned powerful essays like “The Case for Reparations” and “I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye,” two of my personal favorites.  

Coates is skilled in the English language in ways I can’t even begin to describe, and the ways in which he tackles Black (and American) issues in an unfiltered, yet analytical manner is something I aspire to do. After having taken nonfiction courses at the University of Central Florida, I was urged by several professors to read his 2015 nonfiction work, Between the World and Me. I admittedly pushed it off for some time, mainly because I was always reading a ton of books for school and really wanted to give it my undivided attention. But when I did finally read it last summer, it quite literally changed my life.

The National Book Award winning Between the World and Me seemed to offer exactly what I needed as a young Black man living in America. The book is entirely one letter penned from Coates to his young Black son, where he shares his own life journey and helps make sense of the Black body. It was so powerful for me, that after I finished reading it, I had a poster printed with a quote taken from an earlier section of the book (which you can see in this week’s photo). This book is one that I’m certain I’ll read with my own children as they grow and search for understanding of their place in America.

Coates is also the author of nonfiction books, The Beautiful Struggle and We Were Eight Years in Power, and released his debut novel, The Water Dancer, in 2019. Additionally, he’s the current author of Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain America comics. Coates’ awards and honors include the MacArthur Fellowship, The National Book Award, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book, and more.

I admire Coates’ versatility—he’s successfully documented beautiful stories in multiple genres and mediums: essays, articles, culture commentary, nonfiction, comics, and now, fiction. In every literary work, Coates transcends the limits of genre and does so in a way that progresses the stories of people of Color in America. For me, a writer like Coates is one whose name will go down in history next to remarkable writers like DuBois and Baldwin.  

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