Who is Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me?

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the memoir Between the World and Me. An acclaimed writer and correspondent for The Atlantic, he wrote Between the World and Me as a letter to his then-fifteen-year-old son, Samori, whom Coates and his wife had when they were both twenty-four. In...

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the memoir Between the World and Me. An acclaimed writer and correspondent for The Atlantic, he wrote Between the World and Me as a letter to his then-fifteen-year-old son, Samori, whom Coates and his wife had when they were both twenty-four. In the book, Coates recounts growing up learning the “language of the streets” in Baltimore, Maryland, in the 1980s, and then attending Howard, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. Coates refers to Howard as “the Mecca” because it draws such a diversity of black students, teachers, scholars, and artists. While a student, he spent a great deal of time reading in the Howard library and, later, learning from older poets and writing for a local alternative newspaper. He also met his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, at Howard. Coates eventually dropped out to pursue writing and to help raise their new son. The family moved to PG County, Maryland, where Coates learned that a PG County police officer had killed his Howard classmate Prince Jones, leading Coates to become increasingly outraged at the area’s history of police brutality and at the broader systemic racism of which it is a part. Coates, Kenyatta, and Samori later moved to New York City, where Coates began to establish himself as a writer. He continued to be deeply concerned with racial injustice and police brutality, with the basis of the “Dream” of American prosperity and innocence in oppression, and with his responsibility as the father of a black son. Only while abroad in France did Coates find a sense of relief from the burden of the United States’ history of racism. An atheist and feminist who believes that the concept of race derives from racism, rather than the other way around—and that the “Dreamers” who blind themselves to the realities of racism must wake up on their own—Coates wrote his book as a way of imparting what he has learned about being a black man in the United States to his son.

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