Coates at the University of Virginia in 2015
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates
September 30, 1975
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates ( TAH-n?-HAH-see KOHTS; born September 30, 1975) 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.
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 and Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction. He has also written a Black Panther series and a Captain America series for Marvel Comics. In 2015 he received a "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.
His debut novel, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019.
Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, William Paul "Paul" Coates, was a Vietnam War veteran, former Black Panther, publisher, and librarian. His mother, Cheryl Lynn (Waters), was a teacher. 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.
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. 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. Coates grew up in the Mondawmin neighborhood of Baltimore during the crack epidemic.
Coates' interest in books was instilled at an early age when his mother, in response to bad behavior, would require him to write essays. 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.
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. In mid-2014, Coates attended an intensive program in French at Middlebury College to prepare for a writing fellowship in Paris, France.
From 2000 to 2007, Coates worked as a journalist at various publications, including Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice, and Time. 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. 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.
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" and his June 2014 feature "The Case for Reparations" have been especially praised and have won his blog a place on the Best Blogs of 2011 list by Time magazine and the 2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism from The Sidney Hillman Foundation. 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."
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, 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. 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.
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". 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. West believes that Obama should never be compared to civil rights activists, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., 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. The same day, West shared the article on Twitter, attracting tweets in response from many others, including hundreds of supporters of Coates. 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. Shortly afterwards, Coates, who had enjoyed a following of over 1.25 million Twitter users, deactivated his Twitter account.
Coates has worked as a guest columnist for The New York Times, having turned down an offer from them to become a regular columnist. He has also written for The Washington Post, the Washington Monthly, and O magazine.
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."
In 2008, Coates published The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir about coming of age in West Baltimore and its effect on him. In the book, he discusses the influence of his father, a former Black Panther; the prevailing street crime of the era and its effects on his older brother; his own troubled experience attending Baltimore-area schools; and his eventual graduation and enrollment in Howard University. 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."
Coates' second book, Between the World and Me, was published in July 2015. 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. 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. 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" that has been introduced every year since 1989. 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. 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." 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".
Coates is the writer of the comic book series about the Black Panther drawn by Brian Stelfreeze and published by Marvel Comics. 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.
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. 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.
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. The novel is also an official Oprah's Book Club selection.
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 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. The project will be produced by Oprah Winfrey and air on HBO. He is working on a novel about an African American from Chicago who moves to Paris.
Coates lived in Paris for a residency. In 2009, he lived in Harlem with his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, and son, Samori Maceo-Paul Coates. 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. Coates met his wife when they were both students at Howard University. He is an atheist and a feminist.
The name derives from the Egyptian name of Nubia, n?sy, for which the vowels are unknown.
3. Contemporary feminist critiques (40s-60s) would be awesome, but basically taking what I can get now. #twitterstorians