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BHM: Ta-Nehisi Coates

February 12, 2019

During assembly on Tuesday, February 12, sophomore Isa Rosario-Blake spoke about author, journalist and comic book writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Her remarks follow:

Good morning. For most of these biographical speeches during Black History Month, we highlight the life stories of less well-known historical figures. But today I will be talking about someone who is still very much alive and is continuing to shape the world.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an African-American author and journalist who attended Howard University but left before finishing his degree to start his career in journalism. He has written for the Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice, Time and The Atlantic, where he became senior editor. He left The Atlantic in July 2018. He’s written three books: The Beautiful Struggle; Between the World and Me, for which he won the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction in 2015; and We Were Eight Years in Power, for which he won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. He is also the author of multiple Black Panther and Captain America comic books.

Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1975. He sites this as influential in shaping his young mind and describes his need to be constantly alert, writing that he thought about what he wore, the company he kept, the routes he took to and from school and that “Every one of those choices was about the avoidance of violence, about the protection of my body.” Coates also praises the vibrancy of his Baltimore neighborhood, the strength of his mother, a teacher, and his father, a Vietnam veteran, former Black Panther, university librarian and publisher of Black Classic Press in Baltimore.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first book, a memoir of his childhood and relationship with his father, went relatively unnoticed when published in 2008. He garnered a following after becoming a writer on The Atlantic website’s blog, writing topics about race in the United States, the most well-known of which, or at least the one that can be said to have kick started his rise to national significance, being a critique of Bill Cosby. His second book, published in 2015, was considerably more well received; it was written to his son and while it is personal, it also discusses overarching questions about growing up as an African-American man in the United States, and the assertion that American society is structured to support white supremacy.

Coates says of the effect of the Obama presidency on his career: “My contention is that Barack Obama is directly responsible for the rise of a crop of Black writers and journalists, who achieved prominence during his two terms. Obama’s presence opened a new field for writers, and what began as curiosity about the man himself eventually expanded into curiosity about the community he had so consciously made his home.” Ta-Nehisi Coates' most recent book, We Were Eight Years in Power, was a collection of his Obama-era essays combined with an analysis of historical patterns of politics in the U.S. His essays span the Civil War to the present, some of the most famous including "Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice," "The Case for Reparations," "Fear of a Black President" and "The First White President." 

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a talented writer and journalist. His work is honest, in-depth and well researched, and I encourage all of you to at least do a quick Google, as you may be interested in what you find. He embodies the current living generation of African-American people making history and serves as an inspiration for those to come. Thank you!