Coates grew up in notoriously dangerous West Baltimore, Maryland during the 1980s. There he learned the “laws of the streets” in order to survive but never truly mastered the toughness the streets required of him. He felt trapped there, and, although smart and curious, he felt trapped in school as well. The work seemed disconnected from real life, and the entire system seemed designed not so much for the purposes of learning as for providing an escape route from incarceration and early death. Early on, Coates sensed the connection the ideal of the American Dream and the fear that dominated the lives of everyone he knew.
Coates’s father was a research librarian at Howard University and had been a captain in the Black Panther Party. He loved books, and Coates often read books and pamphlets from his extensive collection. Meanwhile, Coates’s mother gave him his first real...
(The entire section is 592 words.)