BooksTa-Nehisi Coates Biography
Ta-Nehisi Coates (Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates) is an American author, journalist and comic book writer. 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.
He has worked for Washington City Paper, The Village Voice, and Time. He has also contributed to The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications.
Secondly, In 2008, Coates published a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. His second book, Between the World and Me, was released in July 2015.
The book won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and was a nominee for the Phi Beta Kappa 2016 Book Awards.
In 2015, Coates was the recipient of a “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Coates is the writer of a Black Panther series for Marvel Comics drawn by Brian Stelfreeze.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Age
He was born on September 30, 1975 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. He is 43 years old as of 2018.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Education
Coates attended a number of Baltimore-area schools, including Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and William H. Lemmel Middle School, before graduating from Woodlawn High School.
After high school, he attended Howard University. He left after five years to start a career in journalism. Coates is the only child in his family without a college degree. In mid-2014, he attended an intensive program in French at Middlebury College to prepare for a writing fellowship in Paris, France.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Family
Coates is the son of William Paul “Paul” Coates and Cheryl Lynn (Waters). His father was a Vietnam War veteran, former Black Panther, publisher and librarian, while his mother was a teacher.
His 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 George Jackson Prison Movement 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.
His 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 they lived with their father. Coates said he lived with his father the whole time.
Coates said that in his family the important overarching focus was on rearing children with values based on family, respect for elders and being a contribution to your community. This was a common approach to family in the community where he grew up.
His 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 he read many of the books his father published.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Wife
Ta-Nehisi Coates is married to Kenyatta Matthews and together they have a son named Samori Maceo-Paul Coates. The two met when they were both students at Howard University and got married in 2011.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Son
Coates’ son Samori Maceo-Paul Coates is named after Samori Ture, a Mandé chief who fought French colonialism, after black Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo Grajales, and after Coates’ father.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Net Worth
Coates’ net worth and salary has not yet been revealed to the public. His book “Between World and Me” sold 1.5 Million copies worldwide earning estimated $30 Million.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Panther
Coates is the writer of a Black Panther a comic book series 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 also wrote a spinoff of Black Panther titled Black Panther and the Crew which ran for six issues before it was canceled.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Between The World And Me
Between the World and Me is Coates’ second book published in July 2015. The title of the book 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.
Ta Nehisi 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. One of the themes of the book was what physically affected African-American lives, e.g. violence that came from slavery, their bodies being enslaved, 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”.
The Beautiful Struggle
In 2008, Ta Nehisi Coates published The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir about coming of age in West Baltimore and its effect on him.
In the book, Coates 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 his 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.”
- Asphalt Sketches. Baltimore, Maryland: Sundiata Publications, 1990.
- The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008.
- Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. One World, October 3, 2017.
- Black Panther (#1–) (2016–)
- A Nation Under Our Feet (collects issues #1–12)
- A Nation Under Our Feet Book 1
- A Nation Under Our Feet Book 2
- A Nation Under Our Feet Book 3
- Avengers of the New World
- Avengers of the New World Book 1
- Avengers of the New World Book 2
- A Nation Under Our Feet (collects issues #1–12)
- Black Panther: World of Wakanda (#1–6) (2016)
- Vol. 1: Dawn of the Midnight Angels
- Black Panther and the Crew (#1–6) (2017) (with Yona Harvey)
- Vol. 1: We Are the Streets
- Black Panther (#1-) (2018–)
- Captain America (#1-) (2018–)
- “Promises of an Unwed Father”. O: the Oprah Magazine. January 2006.
- “American Girl”. The Atlantic. January/February 2009. Profile on Michelle Obama.
- “A Deeper Black”. Early, Gerald Lyn, and Randall Kennedy. Best African American Essays, 2010. New York: One World, Ballantine Books, 2010.
- “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” The Atlantic. The Civil War Issue. February 2012.
- “Fear of a Black President”. Bennet, James. The Best American Magazine Writing 2013. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
- “How Learning a Foreign Language Reignited My Imagination: Pardon my French”. The Atlantic. Vol. 311, Issue 5. June 2013.
- “The Case for Reparations”. The Atlantic. June 2014.
- “There Is No Post-Racial America”. The Atlantic. July/August 2015.
- “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”. The Atlantic. October 2015.
- “My President Was Black”. The Atlantic. December 2016.
- “The First White President”. The Atlantic. October 2017.
- “I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye”. The Atlantic. May 2018.
- 2012: Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism
- 2013: National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism for “Fear of a Black President”
- 2014: George Polk Award for Commentary for “The Case for Reparations”
- 2015: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice for “The Case for Reparations”
- 2015: American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship
- 2015: National Book Award for Nonfiction for Between the World and Me
- 2015: Fellow of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
- 2015: Kirkus prize for nonfiction for Between the World and Me
- 2018: Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Nonfiction for We Were Eight Years in Power
- 2018: Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, for Black Panther: World of Wakanda (with Roxane Gay and Alitha E. Martinez)
Ta Nehisi Coates Quotes
- I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.
- I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.
- You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.
- One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.
- Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.
Ta-Nehisi Coates Twitter
Interviewer (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie): Hello, Mr. Coates. I’d like to start by—
Ta Nehisi Coates: Be gentle, be gentle.
Interviewer : I’ve just been reading your book. I’d read many of the essays before. But this time I was thinking that it’s really a book about a writer looking back at, and engaging with, his craft. This is a book about writing.
Ta Nehisi Coates: It is, but only a writer would think that. It’s certainly the way I thought about it.
Interviewer : There’s something quite vulnerable about it. Of course, I can say it’s vulnerable because you succeeded. Just imagine if those essays were terrible.
Ta Nehisi Coates: I had a hard time going back and re-reading a lot of the essays. I felt varying ways about them, really. [laughs] It was not a fun experience.
And maybe this is true for all writers, but the work that’s closer to me in time is the work I think is better. The work that’s further away from me—the earliest work—is the worst work in the book.
Interviewer : Which is the earliest essay?
Ta Nehisi Coates: The one on Bill Cosby. I started writing regularly for The Atlantic roughly around the time that Barack Obama got inaugurated.
Every writer dreams of having the ability to hold forth for 8,000 words and pull all these different forms together: history, reportage, journalism. That was all I really wanted, and The Atlantic was my first high-profile opportunity.
In those early essays, I’m just figuring out how to use it. I started off my career at an alternative paper, where I also did a lot of that. But I was young and not so good.
It was a shock when I started getting big assignments. A guy called me up and said, “Listen, we want 8,000 words on this topic, and we’ll pay you $2 a word.” I said, “$2 a word? That’s $16,000!” I had to sit down while he was talking.
Interviewer : You write a lot about being defiant. You’ve said that you don’t have faith; instead you have defiance. But in the end, you realize that even defiance won’t save you. I think your writing is defiant, and you write about white people liking your writing. The people you wrote the truth about suddenly turned around and named you as a favorite writer. I wonder how you feel about that? You know how often people of color are accused of being sellouts.
Ta Nehisi Coates: Sellout! Well, I think so much of writing is about how you deal with failure. I meet a lot of young people who have the talent and the work ethic to write.
A lot of them are really intelligent and have succeeded for much of their lives. But writing is different: you have to fail in order to move forward. You can’t smart your way out of it. You can be smart as hell and it just doesn’t matter. You’re going to fail. Do you know what I mean?
Interviewer : Yup.
Ta Nehisi Coates: I think that deters a lot of people. But even before I became a writer, I accepted the possibility of failure in my daily life. It was just the fact of my life: I could try to be a good person, but pretty much everything else that was going to happen to me out in the world was beyond my control. And it probably was not going to end too well.
Interviewer : I get what you mean. Success is almost accidental in a sense. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserved, because it’s absolutely deserved. When I think about my own writing, I don’t believe in false modesty. I work hard and I have ambition and think, “This will be a success.” But, yes, so much has to align in order for that to happen. Do you think if you had started at The Atlantic ten years earlier, you would have had the same success?
Ta Nehisi Coates: I don’t think so. I think it was the moment. This is not false modesty. I started out writing and studying poetry at Howard University. To this day, some of the work that moves me the most is poetry, which most people don’t care about. I don’t think the power of something moving is necessarily tied to 2,000 people showing up to see you.
Interviewer : Certainly you haven’t changed your approach to the truth based on the fact that The Atlantic is read more by a white audience. You have a truth that you’re looking for and you’re so focused on finding it. Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable—even liberal people.
Ta Nehisi Coates: You know, it wasn’t white people who first caused me to realize that this was a problem; it was black people, when Between the World and Me came out. Cornel West wrote a blistering Facebook post about it and about Toni Morrison’s endorsement. And then the pace picked up.
A certain number of black folks in the academy came out attacking the book. I couldn’t figure out why, because I had been writing that very same way for about seven years.
Interviewer : No. I just don’t. And trust me, when you don’t read two, then you don’t read four or six. It becomes very easy. It’s self-preservation. It messed too much with my head.
Ta Nehisi Coates: You don’t check your book sales at all?
Interviewer : I can’t tell you how many have sold, but I’m very happy whenever I get the direct deposit [laughs] … Anyway, let’s talk about your father. I love your dad.
Ta Nehisi Coates: He’s my harshest critic. He likes this book better than Between the World and Me. Only he would like this better than that one.
Interviewer : Why did your father make you fast on Thanksgiving as a boy?
Ta Nehisi Coates: My dad was in the Black Panther Party.
Interviewer : And a vegetarian?
Ta Nehisi Coates: Yes, but he eats fish. I’m going to try to get this story right: When George Jackson, a Black Panther, was killed in prison in California, folks in the prisons protested by fasting on Thanksgiving. In solidarity, a bunch of folks out in the community also fasted.
This went on for three or fours years. By the time I was aware of it, my dad was the only person doing it. [Adichie laughs] But then it became this thing about being reflective on the Native Americans.
And it’s really profound if you think about it, because Thanksgiving is such a day of gluttony. My dad talks about that, the gluttony when we sit back stuffing ourselves as much as we can and watching this one sport, which I love, but which we all now know is destroying people’s brains. That might have been one of the smarter things my father did.
Interviewer : [laughs] There’s a romance, though, to being raised by a father who’s a former Black Panther and a vegetarian, who is making you fast and read certain books. Do you see that?
Ta Nehisi Coates: No, I hated it. I just wanted to be American when I was a kid. Wanted to be normal, like the Americans I saw on TV.
I was like, “Who would name their kid Ta-Nehisi? Who would do that to their kid?” [both laugh] No one could ever get it right, and still no one can. It’s like it’s intended to be mispronounced and made fun of. And they sent me to public school in inner city Baltimore like that!
Interviewer : Okay, so I have a note here that I made about this idea of yours about Obama being a kind of second Reconstruction. Tell me about that.
Ta Nehisi Coates: I’m just going to be honest with you; there are many aspects of the book. This is probably the least exciting aspect. I think the comparison is interesting, but I don’t think I spend much time on it beyond the introduction.
I think there’s always been this basic sense among black people that if we show white people that we can live by middle-class American norms, that we are actually good people, that we aren’t monsters, then a critical mass of white people—not all white people and maybe not most white people, but a critical mass of white people—will therefore be convinced of our worthiness and the gates to the bounties of America will open up to us.
It’s implicit in the civil rights movement. It’s in the title of the book, which is taken from words spoken by a congressman in South Carolina who lists all of these great things that black folks did for the government and can’t fathom why these white people want to strip black people of their rights.
What he didn’t understand was that the only thing South Carolina feared more than a bad Negro government was a good Negro government. You following these middle-class norms is exactly what they hate the most because it screws up the machinery.
I mean, if you were to imagine an American family, that’s what you would imagine. They could have been a TV show, man. And still, they got postcards with watermelons on the front.
By the end of his time in office, well over half of a major political party believed that this guy could not be American. My argument is that it was this very bourgeoisness that made people feel that way.
In the book’s introduction I have this quote from the Civil War, when black people had started fighting for the Union and had proven themselves in battle against the Confederates. And the Confederates say, “Listen, man, I know we don’t like these niggers, but they’re fighting well over there.
So maybe some of them should fight well for us?” And the guy says, “You can’t make slaves into soldiers and enslave the soldiers. Then our entire theory of slavery is wrong.”
Interviewer : But hold on. With Obama, I get the bourgeoisness. I mean, Obama was the perfect magical Negro. But would he have been elected if he weren’t?
Ta Nehisi Coates: No, you’re exactly right. That’s the only way he could have gotten in there. And then he was hated because of that. That’s exactly what I would argue. Because of where the country was in 2007, 2008—two failed wars, economy in the toilet—people thought, “Okay, maybe we’ll try this guy.” But once everything got fixed …
Interviewer : I know this is chutzpah, and maybe I sound like your dad, but the time to let the black guy win is when everything goes to hell.
Ta Nehisi Coates: My dad said it much more profane than that. [laughs] Honestly, I don’t want to overgeneralize. There are a substantial number of white people who just straight voted for him because they think he’s the best guy.
But there’s still that core who thinks, “Okay, when they’re adhering to bourgeois norms, that means I might have to compete with them for that middle-class job. They might be my supervisor.” It destabilizes a system that’s been in this country since its conception, going back to Colonial times.
Interviewer : I can’t understand it. Are they just being reactionary?
Ta Nehisi Coates: Not only that … You have Martin Luther King Jr., right? He was out there preaching nonviolence. And the response was to bug his phone and then to shoot him. He was the nicest, most palatable sort of example of a black man, and the response was violence.
I talk about this in the epilogue. Excuse my language—”If the nigger can be president, then I can be president, too.” Any white person can be president. Any one of them would qualify. Trump is the first president to serve in office who has no public sector experience at all: never been a politician, never served in the Army or anything.
I could be wrong and maybe historians will get on me about this, but I don’t think there’s been anybody else with such complete ignorance of how government works. This is remarkable. But it’s not remarkable if you take white supremacy as the starting point. It then begins to make a bizarre, deeply depressing kind of sense.
Interviewer : What sense do you make of people who voted for Obama and then for Trump?
Ta Nehisi Coates: I think it proves the racism. On one hand, you have an Ivy League-educated lawyer, the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama didn’t have three wives like Trump. He couldn’t have bragged about sexual assault.
The question isn’t, “Did you vote for Obama and then vote for Trump?” The real question is, “Would you vote for a black Trump and then vote for Trump?” That’s the actual question.
Interviewer : That’s true, actually. While Obama was president, I just felt so protective of him. But in your essays, you’re harsh on Obama, too. Looking back, do you think that your criticism of him was fair, considering everything?
Ta Nehisi Coates: I didn’t take any pleasure in writing that. Those were hard pieces for me to write. Can I ask you something? Does it mean anything to you that his father was African?
Interviewer : I think of Obama as an American. I don’t think it changes my admiration. I just love him. Maybe if I were Kenyan that would matter more. By the way, when are you coming to Nigeria?
Ta Nehisi Coates: I don’t know. When am I coming to Nigeria?
Interviewer : [laughs] Make your flight out to Lagos.
Ta Nehisi Coates: I want to come. I want to talk about my comic book in Africa. I’d love to do that.
Interviewer : Maybe you should talk to my brother about comic books. I had no idea you were doing them until he told me. I was like, “Wait, what?”
Ta Nehisi Coates: No, let me tell you! It’s pertinent to our conversation—if you’ll let me tie it together. The Black Panther was invented by two white people in the 1960s during the civil rights era, and none of their superheroes were black.
So they invented this guy who’s the king of this mythical African country called Wakanda. Wakanda is the most advanced civilization, not just in Africa, but on the entire planet. And unlike the rest of Africa, Ethiopia excluded, it has never been colonized.
I find Wakanda and the Black Panther so fascinating because what I actually think it comes out of is the need or the desire among black people to have a home. And to have a home that’s not built on Western .
Kwanzaa Comic Books
Interviewer : So basically it’s a Kwanzaa comic book.
Ta Nehisi Coates: Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?
Interviewer : No. [both laugh] My second-to-last question involves this line I underlined, “protest to production,” when you talk about how African Americans should move from protest to a real engagement with the history of the Civil War.
Ta Nehisi Coates: That sounds kind of arrogant. I’m sorry I wrote that.
Interviewer : [laughs] Well, I was thinking about it in terms of all those beautiful statues of beautiful men that people want to take down in America right now. Do you think those Confederate statues should come down?
Ta Nehisi Coates: Yeah, I think it’s awesome. It’s high time. There’s this perception that things just started this year with Charlottesville, but black people have been going after that stuff since it went up. I know a lot of people feel like it’s placing symbols over substance.
But I really think they’ve got it backwards—symbols have substance. I know we like to think that if we have our facts straight and have a well-documented argument, it will change people’s minds, but it doesn’t. Facts are overrated. I mean, they’re important.
We need to know what happened. I’m a journalist and I rely on facts all the time. But as Hollywood shows us, you really need to build a story, a narrative. I’m not saying this to flatter you, but novels are more important right now. Books and stories shape conversation, they shape the imagination. That stuff is terribly important.
Interviewer : Okay, but you dodged my question about lecturing black people on moving from protest to production. I want it noted that you dodged that question about lecturing black people.
Ta Nehisi Coates: [laughs] Okay.
Interviewer : My last question is about love. I’m such a hopeless romantic, and I just found it so lovely when you write about you and your wife, Kenyatta, where you describe hearing someone talk about what they want to become and then seeing them become that. I had to stop myself from crying. The question is: Are you afraid of being sentimental?
Ta Nehisi Coates: Yes, I’m afraid of being sentimental. I’m not afraid of writing romantically or writing about love. But it is hard to write about love without being sentimental or maudlin. If I write about love, I want it to have the same power and force as everything else.
And that was the hardest part of the book to write about. I’m actually a hopeless romantic, too. I liked your novel Americanah largely because of the romance. Did you read a lot of Jane Austen?
Interviewer : I used to.
Ta Nehisi Coates: I wish I could write like that. Also, The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, gets romance right. It gets love right and it’s grounded and it’s beautiful. It’s deeply moving.
Interviewer : Are you working on writing fiction?
Ta Nehisi Coates: I am.
Interviewer : How’s it going?
Ta Nehisi Coates: I’m not working on it right now. It’s very sad.
Interviewer : Well, if it helps, you’re not ever alone in that space of frustration and wanting to write.
Ta Nehisi Coates: Your misery doesn’t make me feel better but …
Interviewer : [laughs] It’s not meant to make you feel better, just to make you feel less alone about it. It’s been very nice talking to you. I’d also like it noted that I actually kind of like you now, but I didn’t when I first met you.
Ta Nehisi Coates: [laughs] And I want it noted that I always liked you, Chimamanda.