Between the World and Me is a letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates's fifteen-year-old son, Samori. He weaves his personal, historical, and intellectual development into his ruminations on how to live in a black body in America....
Between the World and Me is a 2015 nonfiction book written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and published by Spiegel & Grau.
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates 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 three 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.
Coates' first book, The Beautiful Struggle, was published in 2008. His first fiction novel, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019.
The Beautiful Struggle
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."
Between the World and Me
Main article: Between the World and Me
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".
Main article: Black Panther (comics)
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.
He also wrote a spinoff of Black Panther, Black Panther and the Crew, that ran for six issues before it was canceled.
We Were Eight Years in Power
Main article: 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 October3,2017.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.
The Water Dancer
Main article: 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. The novel is also an official Oprah's Book Club selection.
Coates was the 2012–14 MLK visiting professor for writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He joined the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism as its journalist-in-residence in late 2014.
In 2017, Coates joined the faculty of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute as a Distinguished Writer in Residence.
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 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.
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 and Adam Kubert.
: Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism2012
: National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism for "Fear of a Black President"2013
: George Polk Award for Commentary for "The Case for Reparations"2014
: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice for "The 2015Case for Reparations"
: American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship2015
: National Book Award for Nonfiction for Between the World and Me2015
: Fellow of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation2015
: Kirkus prize for nonfiction for Between the World and Me2015
Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Nonfiction for We Were Eight Years in Power2018
: Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, for Black Panther: World of Wakanda 2018 (with Roxane Gay and Alitha E. Martinez)
The book is written as a letter to the author's teenage son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being Black in the United States. Coates recapitulates American history and explains to his son the "racist violence that has been woven into American culture." Coates draws from an abridged, autobiographical account of his youth in Baltimore, detailing the ways in which institutions like the school, the police, and even "the streets" discipline, endanger, and threaten to disembody Black men and women. The work takes structural and thematic inspiration from James Baldwin's 1963 epistolary book The Fire Next Time. Unlike Baldwin, Coates sees white supremacy as an indestructible force, one that Black Americans will never evade or erase, but will always struggle against.
The novelist Toni Morrison wrote that Coates filled an intellectual gap in succession to James Baldwin. Editors of The New York Times and The New Yorker described the book as exceptional. The book won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.
After reading Between the World and Me, novelist Toni Morrison wrote that Coates fills "the intellectual void" left by James Baldwin's death 28 years prior. A. O. Scott of The New York Times said the book is "essential, like water or air."David Remnick of The New Yorker described it as "extraordinary."
Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times wrote that Between the World and Me functioned as a sequel to Coates's 2008 memoir, which displayed Coates's talents as an emotional and lyrical writer. Coates's use of "the Dream" (in reference to paradisal suburban life) confused her, and she thought Coates stretched beyond what is safely generalizable. In particular, she felt that the phrasing of his comments on 9/11 could be easily misread. Kakutani thought that Coates did not consistently acknowledge racial progress achieved over the course of centuries and that some parts read like the author's internal debate. Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York said that a sense of fear for one's children propels the book, and Coates's atheism gives the book a sense of urgency.
On November 18, 2015, it was announced that Coates had won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me.NPR's Colin Dwyer had considered it the favorite to win the prize, given the book's reception.It also won the 2015 Kirkus prize for nonfiction.
The book topped The New York Times Best Seller list for nonfiction on August2,2015,and remained#1 for three weeks. It topped the same list again during the week of January 24, 2016.
The book was selected by Washington University in St. Louis and Augustana College in 2019, as the book for all first year students to read and discuss in the fall 2019 semester. In the same year, the book was ranked 7th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.
Editions and translations
Hardcover, English. Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015) ISBN 978-0812993547
E-book, English. Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015) ASIN: B00SEFAIRI
Hardcover, French. "Une colère noire : Lettre à mon fils." AUTREMENT (January 27, 2016) ISBN 978-2746743410
E-book, French. "Une colère noire : Lettre à mon fils." AUTREMENT (January 27, 2016) ASIN: B01A91OE0G
Hardcover, German. Miriam Mandelkow (Translator) "Zwischen mir und der Welt." Hanser Berlin (February 1, 2016) ISBN 978-3446251076
E-book, German. Miriam Mandelkow (Translator) "Zwischen mir und der Welt." Hanser Berlin (February 1, 2016) ASIN: B018VATBL4
Paperback, Spanish. Javier Calvo Perales (Translator) "Entre el mundo y yo." (nd) ISBN 978-8432229657
E-book, Spanish. Javier Calvo Perales (Translator) "Entre el mundo y yo." Seix Barral (2016) ASIN: B01IPXTMS4
Paperback, Catalan. Josefina Caball Guerrero (Translator). "Entre el món i jo." (nd) ISBN 978-8416367719
E-book, Catalan. Josefina Caball Guerrero (Translator). "Entre el món i jo." (October 19, 2016) ASIN: B01JB6TWY8
Hardcover, Norwegian. Bodil Engen (Translator). "Mellom verden og meg." Heinesen forl. (2016) ISBN 9788281770430.
Ever since 1976, when the US government officially recognised Black History Month, February has been a time – especially in state schools – to celebrate the emancipatory struggles of runaway slaves, pioneering medics and lawyers, and poets and “freedom riders”. For the young Ta-Nehisi Coates, growing up in Baltimore, it was also a time of mystification and shame. Watching newsreel footage of the civil rights movement, he got the impression that “the black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life – love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the firehouses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into their streets”.
These days, Coates is a prominent journalist for the Atlantic where his tendency to puncture sunny-side-up political platitudes has not abated. In “Fear of a Black President” (2012) he wrote of Barack Obama’s “remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites” and how “this need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offence, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration”. In 2014 he published “The Case for Reparations”, a lengthy and widely debated essay in which he argued that reparations would mean “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratiser with the facts of our history”.
It is understandable, then, that there has been a lot of fanfare for Between the World and Me. It appears at a moment when, thanks to mobile phones and social media, the ghastly spectacle of black Americans – many of them young and unarmed – being strangled, clubbed or shot by police officers has created a cacophony calling for change. Black Twitter, Black Lives Matter, hashtag activism: it is a marvellous noise, an Occupy-style swarm energy that, for veterans of an older media imperium, can appear befuddling. What they want is a figurehead, a mansplainer, a gravitational node amid all these centrifugal conversations.
They could certainly do a lot worse than Coates, whose book has already been lauded by Toni Morrison (“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died”), and helped him to win a prestigious MacArthur “genius” award. A self-conscious step back from a present whose crimes and bloodiness it sees as consistent with American history, the volume is a rather strange blend of epistolary non-fiction, autobiography and political theory that has at its heart a simple message: “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”
Many of the ideas Coates rehearses here are associated with the school of thought known as Afro-pessimism. Black Americans were enslaved longer than they have been free, and as a result the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin are “merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings and humiliations”. Later he argues: “The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”
These are all forceful claims – ones made with a characteristic pivoting towards the (male) black body and the frequent use of words such as “plunder” or “shackle”. They are accompanied by vivid recollections of growing up in gang-ridden West Baltimore where the local lads’ uproarious nihilism is ascribed to the knowledge that “we could not get out” and that “the ground we walked was tripwired”.
Coates is at his dreamiest when evoking his time at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, DC, that he calls “the Mecca”. Cosmopolitan, teeming with “Ponzi schemers and Christian cultists, Tabernacle fanatics and mathematical geniuses”, it’s a place of self-discovery and self-invention, “a machine crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples”. It is here that he immerses himself in black literature and history, meets his future wife and befriends a middle-class student called Prince Jones who is later unlawfully killed by an undercover police officer.
In part, the book is an ode to writing itself. Coates includes excerpts from Baldwin, Richard Wright and Sonia Sanchez as well as Nas and Ice Cube. He describes “the art of journalism” as “a powerful technology for seekers”. And he remembers his time at Howard as being one where he learned the power of poetry as much as of slogans, and that “The Dream thrives on generalisation, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers.”
The Dream is something Coates often invokes and damns as psychically disfiguring. The Dream, he explains, is “perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways … treehouses and the cub scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.” It’s hardly news that there are many tens of millions of Americans – of all colours – who have rarely had a whiff of this aroma. As such, the passage merely highlights the inaudibility of class in this book. There is also precious little about Asians or Latinos, two other groups whose national identities have been scrambled and redefined by imperialism, internment and legally sanctioned alienation.
Between the World and Me apparently came about when Coates asked his editor why no one wrote like Baldwin any more; his editor suggested he try. Borrowing the epistolary form of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963), he addresses it to his 14-year-old son Samori. But Coates doesn’t write like a father so much as an apprentice theologian or a sophomoric logician. Sentences begin with “Thus”, “I propose”, “This leads us to another equally important ideal.” The tone is consistently one of aspirational gravitas, of bewhiskered patriarchs and dollar-bill overlords.
A comparison with Coates’s previous book, a 2008 memoir entitled The Beautiful Struggle, is telling. There he wrote about the world into which he grew up: “cable and Atari plugged into every room, juvenile parenting, niggers sporting kicks with price tags that looked like mortgage bills”. He believed in structural racism and enforced underdevelopment, but he described those forces in less portentous language: “We thought all our battles were homegrown and personal, but, like an evil breeze at our back, we felt invisible hands at work, like someone was still tugging at levers and pulling strings.” In 2015, Coates is a more exalted writer, but his prose seems increasingly ventriloquised and his insistence on Afro-American exceptionalism a kind of parochialism.
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