Ta-Nehisi Coates
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Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates delivering the keynote speech at the University of Virginia's 2015 Community Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
Coates at the University of Virginia in 2015
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates

(1975-09-30) September 30, 1975 (age 44)
EducationHoward University
  • Writer
  • journalist
Kenyatta Matthews

Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates[1] ( TAH-n?-HAH-see KOHTS;[2] born September 30, 1975)[3] is an American author and journalist. Coates gained a wide readership during his time as national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he wrote about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans and white supremacy.[4]

Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications. He has published two books, a memoir[5] and Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.[6][7][8] He has also written a Black Panther series[9] and a Captain America series for Marvel Comics. In 2015 he received a "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.[10]

His debut novel, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019.

Early life

Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, William Paul "Paul" Coates,[11] was a Vietnam War veteran, former Black Panther, publisher, and librarian. His mother, Cheryl Lynn (Waters), was a teacher.[12] Coates' father founded and ran Black Classic Press, a publisher specializing in African-American titles. The Press grew out of a grassroots organization, the George Jackson Prison Movement (GJPM). Initially the GJPM operated a Black book store called the Black Book. Later Black Classic Press was established with a table-top printing press in the basement of the Coates family home.[2][13]

Coates' father had seven children, five boys and two girls, by four women. Coates' father's first wife had three children, Coates' mother had two boys, and the other two women each had a child. The children were raised together in a close-knit family; most lived with their mothers and at times lived with their father. Coates said he lived with his father the whole time.[2][14] In Coates' family, he said that the important overarching focus was on rearing children with values based on family, respect for elders and being a contribution to your community. This approach to family was common in the community where he grew up.[2] Coates grew up in the Mondawmin neighborhood of Baltimore[14] during the crack epidemic.[2]

Coates' interest in books was instilled at an early age when his mother, in response to bad behavior, would require him to write essays.[15] His father's work with the Black Classic Press was a huge influence: Coates has said that he read many of the books his father published.[2]

Coates attended a number of Baltimore-area schools, including William H. Lemmel Middle School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, before graduating from Woodlawn High School.[16][17]

After high school, Coates attended Howard University. He left after five years to start a career in journalism. He is the only child in his family without a college degree.[14][18] In mid-2014, Coates attended an intensive program in French at Middlebury College to prepare for a writing fellowship in Paris, France.[19]


Coates at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival


Coates' first journalism job was as a reporter at The Washington City Paper; his editor was David Carr.[20]

From 2000 to 2007, Coates worked as a journalist at various publications, including Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice, and Time.[20] His first article for The Atlantic, "This Is How We Lost to the White Man", about Bill Cosby and conservatism, started a new, more successful and stable phase of his career.[21] The article led to an appointment with a regular column for The Atlantic, a blog that was popular, influential, and had a high level of community engagement.[20]

Coates became a senior editor at The Atlantic, for which he wrote feature articles as well as maintaining his blog. Topics covered by the blog included politics, history, race, culture as well as sports, and music. His writings on race, such as his September 2012 The Atlantic cover piece "Fear of a Black President"[20][22] and his June 2014 feature "The Case for Reparations"[23] have been especially praised and have won his blog a place on the Best Blogs of 2011 list by Time magazine[24] and the 2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism from The Sidney Hillman Foundation.[20][25] Coates' blog has also been praised for its engaging comments section, which Coates curates and moderates heavily so that "the jerks are invited to leave [and] the grown-ups to stay and chime in."[26]

In discussing The Atlantic article on "The Case for Reparations", Coates said he had worked on it for almost two years. He had read Rutgers University professor Beryl Satter's book, Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America,[27] a history of redlining that included a discussion of the grassroots organization, the Contract Buyers League, of which Clyde Ross was one of the leaders.[28][29] The focus of the article was not so much on reparations for slavery, but was instead a focus on the institutional racism of housing discrimination.[28]

In December 2017, the philosopher and activist Cornel West published an editorial in The Guardian with the title: "Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle".[30] The premise of the article was that Coates "fetishizes white supremacy" and represents a "narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neo-liberalism" by wrongly casting former President Barack Obama as a successor to figures as Malcolm X as an African-American hero.[30] West believes that Obama should never be compared to civil rights activists, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.,[31] who in their fight against white supremacy spoke out against systemic biases in predatory capitalism and war; according to West, this is because Obama, while he is of the same racial class, is part of the system that the activists should fight against.[30] The same day, West shared the article on Twitter, attracting tweets in response from many others, including hundreds of supporters of Coates.[32][33] The next day, West's tweet was retweeted by the alt-right white supremacist, Richard Spencer, who indicated tacit agreement with the criticism of Coates.[32][34] Shortly afterwards, Coates, who had enjoyed a following of over 1.25 million Twitter users, deactivated his Twitter account.[32][35]

Coates has worked as a guest columnist for The New York Times, having turned down an offer from them to become a regular columnist.[20] He has also written for The Washington Post, the Washington Monthly, and O magazine.[20]

Coates left his position as a national correspondent for The Atlantic in July 2018 after a decade with the magazine. In a memo to the staff, the editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, said: "The last few years for him have been years of significant changes. He's told me that he would like to take some time to reflect on these changes, and to figure out the best path forward, both as a person and as a writer."[4]


The Beautiful Struggle

In 2008, Coates published The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir about coming of age in West Baltimore and its effect on him.[36] In the book, he discusses the influence of his father, a former Black Panther;[37] the prevailing street crime of the era and its effects on his older brother;[38] his own troubled experience attending Baltimore-area schools;[39] and his eventual graduation and enrollment in Howard University.[16] The lack of interpersonal skills and the complexity of Coates's father figure in the book sheds light on a world of absentee fathers. As Rich Benjamin states in a September 2016 article in The Guardian, "Fatherhood is a vexed topic, particularly so for an author such as Coates" and continues with "The Beautiful Struggle makes an enduring genre cliche--the father-son relationship--unexpected and new, as well as offering a vital insight into Coates's coming of age as a man and thinker."[40]

Between the World and Me

Coates' second book, Between the World and Me, was published in July 2015.[41] The title is drawn from a Richard Wright poem of the same name about a Black man discovering the site of a lynching and becoming incapacitated with fear, creating a barrier between himself and the world.[42] Coates said that one of the origins of the book was the death of a college friend, Prince Carmen Jones Jr., who was shot by police in a case of mistaken identity.[43] In an ongoing discussion about reparation, continuing the work of his June 2014 Atlantic article on reparations, Coates cited the bill sponsored by Rep. John Conyers called "H.R. 40 - Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act"[44] that has been introduced every year[45] since 1989.[46] One of the themes of the book was what physically affected African-American lives, e.g. their bodies being enslaved, violence that came from slavery, and various forms of institutional racism.[47][48] In a review for Politico magazine, conservative pundit Rich Lowry stated that while the book is lyrical and powerfully written, "For all his subtle plumbing of his own thoughts and feelings and his occasional invocations of the importance of the individuality of the person, Coates has to reduce people to categories and actors in a pantomime of racial plunder to support his worldview."[49] In a review for Slate, Jack Hamilton wrote that the book "is a love letter written in a moral emergency, one that Coates exposes with the precision of an autopsy and the force of an exorcism".[50]

Black Panther

Coates is the writer of the comic book series about the Black Panther drawn by Brian Stelfreeze and published by Marvel Comics.[9] Issue #1 went on sale April 6, 2016, and sold an estimated 253,259 physical copies, the best-selling comic for the month of April 2016.[51]

He also wrote a spinoff of Black Panther, Black Panther and the Crew, that ran for six issues[52] before it was canceled.[53]

We Were Eight Years in Power

Coates' collection of previously published essays on the Obama Era, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, was announced by Random House, with a release date of October 3, 2017.[54] Coates added essays written especially for the book bridging the gaps between the previously-published essays, as well as an introduction and an epilogue. The book's title is a quote from 19th-century African-American congressman Thomas E. Miller of South Carolina, who asked why white Southerners hated African Americans after all the good they had done during the Reconstruction Era. Coates sees parallels between that earlier period and the Obama presidency.[55]

The Water Dancer

Coates first novel and work of fiction, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019, and is a surrealist story set in the time of slavery, concerning a superhuman protagonist named Hiram Walker who possesses photographic memory, but who cannot remember his mother, and is able to transport people over far distances by using a power known as "conduction" which can fold the Earth-like fabric and allows him to travel across large areas via waterways.[56] The novel is also an official Oprah's Book Club selection.[57]


Coates was the 2012-14 MLK visiting professor for writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[20][58]

He joined the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism as its journalist-in-residence in late 2014.[59]

In 2017, Coates joined the faculty of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute as a Distinguished Writer in Residence.[60]

Upcoming projects

As of 2019, Coates is working on America in the King Years which is a television project with David Simon, Taylor Branch, and James McBride[61] about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, based on one of the volumes of the books America in the King Years written by Taylor Branch, specifically At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968.[62] The project will be produced by Oprah Winfrey and air on HBO.[63] He is working on a novel about an African American from Chicago who moves to Paris.[64]

Coates is also set to adapt Rachel Aviv's 2014 New Yorker article "Wrong Answer" into a full-length feature film of the same title, starring Michael B. Jordan with direction by Ryan Coogler.[65]

In addition to ongoing work on the Black Panther comic book series, in 2018 Coates announced he was starting work on a new Captain America comic with artist Leinil Yu[66] and Adam Kubert.

Personal life

Ta-Nehisi in hieroglyphs

Coates' first name, Ta-Nehisi, is derived from an Ancient Egyptian language name for Nubia.[47] Nubia is a region along the Nile river in present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt.[14][68]

As a child, Coates enjoyed comic books and Dungeons & Dragons.[14][69]

Coates lived in Paris for a residency. In 2009, he lived in Harlem[2] with his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, and son, Samori Maceo-Paul Coates.[70] His son is named after Samori Ture, a Mandé chief who fought French colonialism, after black Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo Grajales, and after Coates' father.[71] Coates met his wife when they were both students at Howard University.[71] He is an atheist and a feminist.[72]

With his family, Coates moved to Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, New York, in 2001.[73] He purchased a brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in 2016.[74]

In 2016, he was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Oregon State University.[75]




  • Asphalt Sketches. Baltimore, Maryland: Sundiata Publications, 1990. OCLC 171149459 Book of poetry.
  • The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-52684-5 OCLC 638193286
  • Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. ISBN 978-0-812-99354-7 OCLC 912045191
  • We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. One World, October 3, 2017. ISBN 978-0-399-59056-6


Selected articles


Short Fiction



  1. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi Paul (February 1, 2007). "Is Obama Black Enough?". Time. Retrieved 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gross, Terry (February 18, 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Unlikely Road to Manhood'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 2015. The name derives from the Egyptian name of Nubia, n?sy, for which the vowels are unknown.
  3. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (July 2, 2015). "Brief But Spectacular: Ta-Nehisi Coates". PBS Newshour. Retrieved 2015.
  4. ^ a b Fortin, Jacey (July 20, 2018), "Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Leaving The Atlantic", The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Beautiful Struggle' To Manhood". NPR.org. Retrieved .
  6. ^ a b "2015 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2015.
  7. ^ Alter, Alexandra (November 19, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Wins National Book Award". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  8. ^ 2016 Book Awards Short List, The Phi Beta Kappa Society.
  9. ^ a b Gustines, George Gene (September 22, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates to Write Black Panther Comic for Marvel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  10. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (September 29, 2015). "MacArthur 'Genius Grant' Winners for 2015 Are Announced". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015.
  11. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (November 23, 2013). "In Defense of a Loaded Word". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Smith, Jeremy Adam (2009). "Returning to Glory: Ta-Nehisi's Story". The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-807-09737-3. OCLC 436443245. Retrieved 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d e Pride, Felicia (June 4, 2008). "Manning Up: The Coates Family's Beautiful Struggle in Word and Deed". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on June 6, 2008. Retrieved 2015.
  15. ^ "One on 1 Profile: Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes the Next Big Step in His Career". NY1. June 9, 2014. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved 2014.
  16. ^ a b Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2008). The Beautiful Struggle. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-385-52036-2. OCLC 190784908.
  17. ^ a b M. Owens, Donna (January 29, 2015). "Baltimore-born Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his case". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2015.
  18. ^ "The guest list". Vibe: 50. November 2004.
  19. ^ Jefferson, Tara (August 24, 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Presents "Case For Reparations" At City Club of Cleveland". Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Retrieved 2015.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Smith, Jordan Michael (March 5, 2013). "Fear of a Black Pundit". New York Observer. Retrieved 2014.
  21. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (May 2008). "'This Is How We Lost to the White Man'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015.
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Full List - The Best Blogs of 2011". Time.
  25. ^ "2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism: Ta-Nehisi Coates". Sidney Hillman Foundation. Retrieved 2013.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Satter, Beryl (2009). Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America (1st ed.). New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 978-0-805-07676-9. OCLC 237018885.
  28. ^ a b Klein, Ezra (July 19, 2014). "Vox Conversations: Should America offer reparations for slavery?". Vox. Retrieved 2015.
  29. ^ "Inside the Battle for Fair Housing in 1960s Chicago". The Atlantic. May 21, 2014. Retrieved 2015.
  30. ^ a b c West, Cornel (December 17, 2017). "Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle | Cornel West". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017.
  31. ^ "Cornel West: Obama A 'Republican In Blackface,' Black MSNBC Hosts Are 'Selling Their Souls'". www.mediaite.com. Retrieved 2017.
  32. ^ a b c Schuessler, Jennifer (December 19, 2017). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Deletes Twitter Account Amid Feud With Cornel West". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017.
  33. ^ West, Cornel (December 17, 2017). ".@tanehisicoates fetishizes white supremacy. His analysis/vision of our world is too narrow & dangerously misleading, omitting the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, & the complex dynamics of class, gender, & sexuality in black America". @CornelWest. Retrieved 2017.
  34. ^ Spencer, Richard (December 18, 2017). "He's not wrong". twitter. Retrieved 2017.
  35. ^
  36. ^ George, Lynell (July 9, 2008). "Lessons from Dad". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014.
  37. ^ Conan, Neal (June 9, 2008). "Struggling with Style - Ta-Nehisi Coates". Talk of the Nation. NPR. Retrieved 2015.
  38. ^ Spalter, Mya (February 18, 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Beautiful Struggle' to Manhood". NPR. Retrieved 2014.
  39. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (July 2014). "The Littlest Schoolhouse". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014.
  40. ^ Benjamin, Rich (September 1, 2016). "The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates review - subverting white expectations". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018.
  41. ^ Jennifer Maloney (June 25, 2015). "Random House Moves Up Release of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Book on Race Relations". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2015.
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ Conyers, John (November 20, 1989). "H.R.3745 - Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act (Introduced in House - IH)". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2015.
  45. ^
  46. ^ Colbert, Stephen (June 16, 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates". The Colbert Report. Retrieved 2015.
  47. ^ a b Gross, Terry (July 13, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates on Police Brutality, the Confederate Flag and Forgiveness". Fresh Air. NPR. Transcript. Retrieved 2017.
  48. ^ Norris, Michele (July 10, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Looks at the Physical Toll of Being Black in America". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved 2015.
  49. ^ Lowry, Rich (July 22, 2015). "The Toxic World-View of Ta-Nehisi Coates". Politico. Retrieved 2015.
  50. ^ Hamilton, Jack (July 9, 2015). "Between the World and Me". Slate. Retrieved 2015.
  51. ^ Schedeen, Jesse (May 17, 2016). "Black Panther Rules April's Comic Book Sales". IGN.
  52. ^ Dockterman, Eliana (January 20, 2017). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Expanding the Black Panther Universe with The Crew". Time.
  53. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (May 15, 2017). "Marvel Cancels Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther & The Crew Comic After Two Issues". Time.
  54. ^ "We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates". Retrieved 2017.
  55. ^ Helm, Angela (August 28, 2017). "The Root 100 No. 1s: Ta-Nehisi Coates Wanted to Be 'the Baddest Motherfucking Writer on the Planet'". The Root. Retrieved 2017.
  56. ^ Annalisa Quinn, NPR, In 'The Water Dancer,' Ta-Nehisi Coates Creates Magical Alternate History, https://www.npr.org/2019/09/26/764373265/in-the-water-dancer-memory-is-the-path-to-freedom
  57. ^ Penguin Random House, The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club), https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550171/the-water-dancer-oprahs-book-club-by-ta-nehisi-coates/
  58. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates is 2012-2013 MLK Visiting Scholar". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2013.
  59. ^ Dunkin, Amy (May 1, 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Named Journalist-in-Residence for the Fall Semester". CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved 2015.
  60. ^ "Author Ta-Nehisi Coates to Join Faculty of NYU's Carter Journalism Institute". New York University. January 30, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  61. ^
  62. ^ Branch, Taylor (2006). At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (2006 Hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-85712-1. OCLC 62118415.
  63. ^ Fleming, Jr., Mike (March 5, 2014). "The Wire's David Simon Takes on Oprah-Produced HBO Mini on Martin Luther King". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2015.
  64. ^ a b "American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship". American Library in Paris. Retrieved 2018.
  65. ^ Williams, Brennan (June 8, 2017). "Ryan Coogler And Michael B. Jordan Are Working on a Fourth Film Together". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017.
  66. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (February 28, 2018). "Why I'm Writing Captain America". The Atlantic.
  67. ^ "On the Etymology of the Egyptian word Nehesi 'Nubian'". 27 November 2014.
  68. ^ Morton, Paul. "An Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates". Bookslut. Retrieved 2014.
  69. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (January 11, 2013). "Growing Up in the Caves of Chaos". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016.
  70. ^
  71. ^ a b Coates, Ta-Nehisi (January 2006). "Promises of an Unwed Father". O: the Oprah Magazine. Retrieved 2015.
  72. ^
  73. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (May 9, 2016). "On Homecomings". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016.
  74. ^ Stack, Liam (May 11, 2016). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Opts Out of Move to Brooklyn After Media Attention". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 2016.
  75. ^ "The Phi Beta Kappa Society Installs its 286th Chapter at Oregon State University", The Phi Beta Kappa Society, April 28, 2016.
  76. ^ Staff (May 2, 2013). "The Atlantic Wins Two National Magazine Awards". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015.
  77. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (February 15, 2015). "Polk Awards in Journalism Are Announced, Including Three for The Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  78. ^ Fillo, MaryEllen (June 9, 2015). "Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates Humbly Accepts Award From Harriet Beecher Stowe Center". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2015.
  79. ^ Calamur, Krishnadev. "'Geniuses' Revealed". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016.
  80. ^ "2015 Finalists | Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2018.
  81. ^ "2018 winners". Dayton Peace Prize. September 17, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  82. ^ "Monstress and My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Are Top Winners at 2018 Eisner Awards".
  83. ^ "The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved .

External links

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