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Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates onstage wearing a suit
Coates in 2015
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates

(1975-09-30) September 30, 1975 (age 48)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
EducationHoward University
  • Writer
  • journalist
SpouseKenyatta Matthews
Parent(s)Cheryl Lynn Coates (née Waters)
William Paul Coates
Websiteta-nehisicoates.com Edit this at Wikidata

Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates[1] (/ˌtɑːnəˈhɑːsi/ TAH-nə-HAH-see;[2] born September 30, 1975)[3] is an American author, journalist, and activist. He 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.[4][5]

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: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications.

He has published three non-fiction books: The Beautiful Struggle, Between the World and Me, and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.[6] Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.[7][8][9] He has also written a Black Panther series and a Captain America series for Marvel Comics.[10] His first novel, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019.

In 2015 he received a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.[11]

Early life[edit]

Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, William Paul Coates (known by his middle name),[12] was a Vietnam War veteran, former Black Panther, publisher, and librarian. His mother, Cheryl Lynn Coates (née Waters), was a teacher.[13] Coates's father founded and ran Black Classic Press, a publishing company specializing in African-American titles. The Press grew out of a grassroots organization, the George Jackson Prison Movement (GJPM), which initially operated a Black bookstore called the Black Book. Later, Black Classic Press was established with a table-top printing press in the basement of the Coates family home.[2][14]

Coates's father had seven children, five boys and two girls, by four women. Coates's father's first wife had three children, Coates's 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 lived with their father. Coates has said that he lived with his father for the entirety of his upbringing,[2][15] and 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, an approach to family that was common in the community where he grew up.[2] Coates grew up in the Mondawmin neighborhood of Baltimore[15] during the crack epidemic.[2]

Coates's interest in literature was instilled at an early age when his mother, in response to bad behavior, would require him to write essays.[16] His father's work with the Black Classic Press was a huge influence. Coates has said that he read many of the books his father published.[2]

External videos
video icon Panel discussion on "Crisis of the Black Male" at Howard University, featuring Coates while a Howard student, October 12, 1995, C-SPAN

Coates attended a number of Baltimore-area schools, including William H. Lemmel Middle School and the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, before graduating from Woodlawn High School.[17][18] He attended Howard University, leaving after five years to start a career in journalism. He is the only child in his family without a college degree.[15][19] In mid-2014, Coates attended an intensive program in French at Middlebury College to prepare for a writing fellowship in Paris, France.[20]


Coates at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival


Coates's first journalism job was as a reporter at The Washington City Paper; his editor was David Carr.[21] From 2000 to 2007, Coates worked as a journalist with various publications, including Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice, and Time.[21] His first article for The Atlantic, "This Is How We Lost to the White Man", about Bill Cosby and conservatism, started a new, more successful and stable phase of his career.[22] The article led to an appointment with a regular column for The Atlantic, a blog that was popular, influential, and had a high level of community engagement.[21]

Coates became a senior editor at The Atlantic, for which he wrote feature articles as well as maintaining his blog. Topics covered by the blog included politics, history, race, culture as well as sports, and music. His writings on race, such as his September 2012 The Atlantic cover piece "Fear of a Black President"[21][23] and his June 2014 feature "The Case for Reparations",[24] have been especially praised,[25] and won his blog a place on the Best Blogs of 2011 list by Time magazine[26] and the 2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism from The Sidney Hillman Foundation.[21][27] His blog has been praised for its engaging comments section, which Coates curates and moderates heavily so that "the jerks are invited to leave [and] the grown-ups to stay and chime in."[28][29][30]

External videos
video icon Washington Journal interview with Coates on "The Case for Reparations", June 13, 2014, C-SPAN

In discussing The Atlantic article on "The Case for Reparations", Coates said he had worked on it for almost two years. He had read Rutgers University professor Beryl Satter's book, Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America,[31] a history of redlining that included a discussion of the grassroots organization the Contract Buyers League, of which Clyde Ross was one of the leaders.[32][33] The focus of the article was not so much on reparations for slavery, but was instead a focus on the institutional racism of housing discrimination.[32]

Coates has worked as a guest columnist for The New York Times, having turned down an offer from them to become a regular columnist.[21] He has written for The Washington Post, the Washington Monthly, and O magazine.[21]

Coates left his position as a national correspondent for The Atlantic in July 2018 after a decade with the magazine. In a memo to the staff, the editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, said: "The last few years for him have been years of significant changes. He's told me that he would like to take some time to reflect on these changes, and to figure out the best path forward, both as a person and as a writer."[4]


The Beautiful Struggle[edit]

In 2008, Coates published The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir about coming of age in West Baltimore and its effect on him.[34] In the book, he discusses the influence of his father W. Paul Coates, a former Black Panther;[35] the prevailing street crime of the era and its effects on his older brother;[6] his own troubled experience attending Baltimore-area schools;[36] and his eventual graduation and enrollment in Howard University.[17] 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."[37]

Between the World and Me[edit]

External videos
video icon Presentation by Coates on Between the World and Me, October 15, 2015, C-SPAN

Coates's second book, Between the World and Me, was published in July 2015.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40][41] One of the themes of the book was what physically affected African-American lives, such as their bodies being enslaved, violence that came from slavery, and various forms of institutional racism.[42][43][44] The book won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.[45][46] The book was ranked 7th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.[47]

Black Panther[edit]

In 2016, Coates was the writer of the sixth volume of Marvel Comics' Black Panther series, which teamed him with artist Brian Stelfreeze.[10] 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.[48] He also wrote a spinoff of Black PantherBlack Panther and the Crew—that ran for six issues[49] before it was canceled.[50] In 2018, Coates announced he would be writing a ninth volume of the Captain America series, which would team him with artists Leinil Yu and Alex Ross.[51]

We Were Eight Years in Power[edit]

External videos
video icon Presentation by Coates on We Were Eight Years in Power, October 9, 2017, C-SPAN

Coates's 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 October 3, 2017.[52] 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.[53]

The Water Dancer[edit]

Coates's first fiction novel, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019. It is a surrealist story set in the time of slavery and centers around a superhuman protagonist named Hiram Walker who possesses photographic memory but who cannot remember his mother. Walker is also able to transport people over far distances by using a power known as "conduction," which involves folding the Earth like fabric and allows him to travel across large areas via waterways.[54] The novel is also an Oprah's Book Club selection.[55]


Coates was the 2012–2014 MLK visiting scholar for writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[21][56] He joined the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism as its journalist-in-residence in late 2014.[57] In 2017, Coates joined the faculty of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute as a Distinguished Writer in Residence.[58] In 2021, Coates joined the Howard University faculty as writer-in-residence in the College of Arts and Sciences and holds the Sterling Brown chair in the English Department.[59]


In 2015–16, Coates was awarded a visiting fellowship at the American Library in Paris during which he worked on an unpublished novel about an African American from Chicago who moves to Paris.[60]

As of 2019, Coates was working on America in the King Years, which is a television project with David Simon, Taylor Branch, and James McBride.[61][62] The project is 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 Branch, specifically At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–1968.[63] The project will be produced by Oprah Winfrey and air on HBO.[64]

Coates is set to adapt Rachel Aviv's 2014 The New Yorker article "Wrong Answer" into a full-length feature film of the same title, starring Michael B. Jordan with direction by Ryan Coogler.[65]

In February 2021, it was reported that Coates had been hired to write the script of a new Superman feature film from DC Films and Warner Bros. Pictures, with J. J. Abrams producing.[66][67]

Views on race in the United States[edit]

In an interview with Ezra Klein, Coates outlined his analysis that the extent of white identity expression in the United States serves as a critical factor in threat perceptions of certain European Americans and their response to political paradigm shifts related to African Americans, such as the presidency of Barack Obama.[68]

Personal life[edit]

Ta-Nehisi in hieroglyphs
nHsy - Nubian
nHsy - Nubian

Coates's first name, Ta-Nehisi, is derived from an Ancient Egyptian language name for Nubia.[42] Nubia is a region along the Nile river in present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt.[15][70]

As a child, Coates enjoyed comic books and Dungeons & Dragons.[15][71]

In 2009, Coates lived in Harlem[2] with his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, and son, Samori Maceo-Paul Coates.[21][72][73] His son's name is a reference to three people: Samori Ture, a Mandé chief who fought French colonialism, black Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo Grajales, and Coates's father, who was known by his middle name of Paul.[74] Coates met his wife when they were both students at Howard University.[74] He is an atheist and a feminist.[75][76][77] With his family, Coates moved to Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, New York, in 2001.[78] The family purchased a brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in 2016, although they did not move into the brownstone due to media attention that accompanied the purchase.[79] In 2016, he was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Oregon State University.[80]


In December 2017, Coates, who had more than 1.25 million Twitter followers,[81] deactivated his Twitter account after a disagreement with philosopher and activist Cornel West over West's editorial in The Guardian, titled "Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle".[82][83]

Coates caused some controversy in 2021 for his writing of Captain America, volume 9 #28, in which he depicted the Nazi super-villain Red Skull espousing the writings of the Canadian conservative clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. Peterson stated that his work was used out of context in order to portray him negatively, describing it as an "attack" on himself.[84][85]




  • Asphalt Sketches (poetry). Baltimore, Maryland: Sundiata Publications, 1990. OCLC 171149459.
  • The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-52684-5 OCLC 638193286
  • Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. ISBN 978-0-812-99354-7 OCLC 912045191
  • We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. New York: One World, October 3, 2017. ISBN 978-0-399-59056-6


Selected articles[edit]


Short fiction[edit]



  1. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi Paul (February 1, 2007). "Is Obama Black Enough?". Time. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gross, Terry (February 18, 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Unlikely Road to Manhood'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved August 15, 2015. The name derives from the Egyptian name of Nubia, nḥsy, for which the vowels are unknown.
  3. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (July 2, 2015). "Brief But Spectacular: Ta-Nehisi Coates". PBS Newshour. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Fortin, Jacey (July 20, 2018), "Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Leaving The Atlantic", The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates". The Dig at Howard University. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  6. ^ a b Spalter, Mya (February 18, 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Beautiful Struggle' to Manhood". NPR. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "2015 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  8. ^ Alter, Alexandra (November 19, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Wins National Book Award". The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  9. ^ 2016 Book Awards Short List, The Phi Beta Kappa Society.
  10. ^ a b Gustines, George Gene (September 22, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates to Write Black Panther Comic for Marvel". The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  11. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (September 29, 2015). "MacArthur 'Genius Grant' Winners for 2015 Are Announced". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  12. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (November 23, 2013). "In Defense of a Loaded Word". The New York Times. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  13. ^ Bodenner, Chris (July 26, 2015). "Between the World and Me Book Club: Your Critical Thoughts". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  14. ^ Smith, Jeremy Adam (2009). "Returning to Glory: Ta-Nehisi's Story". The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-807-09737-3. OCLC 436443245. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
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  16. ^ "One on 1 Profile: Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes the Next Big Step in His Career". NY1. June 9, 2014. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  17. ^ a b Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2008). The Beautiful Struggle. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-385-52036-2. OCLC 190784908.
  18. ^ a b M. Owens, Donna (January 29, 2015). "Baltimore-born Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his case". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  19. ^ "The guest list". Vibe: 50. November 2004.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Jefferson, Tara (August 24, 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Presents "Case For Reparations" At City Club of Cleveland". Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith, Jordan Michael (March 5, 2013). "Fear of a Black Pundit: Ta-Nehisi Coates raises his voice in American media". New York Observer. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  22. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (May 2008). "This Is How We Lost to the White Man". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  23. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (August 22, 2012). "Fear of a Black President". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 19, 2013.Levenson, Tom (September 28, 2012). "Notable narrative: "Fear of a Black President", by Ta-Nehisi Coates". Nieman Storyboard. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  24. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (June 2014). "The Case for Reparations". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
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  26. ^ "Full List – The Best Blogs of 2011". TIME, 2011.
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  28. ^ Garfield, Bob (December 30, 2011). "How to create an engaging comments section". On the media. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  29. ^ Azi, Paybarah (October 22, 2010). "NPR's guide to blogging: act like Andrew Sullivan, Ben Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates". WNYC. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  30. ^ Matias, J. Nathan (October 22, 2012). "The beauty and terror of commenting communities: Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Media Lab". MIT Center for Civic Media. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  31. ^ Satter, Beryl (2009). Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America (1st ed.). New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 978-0-805-07676-9. OCLC 237018885.
  32. ^ a b Klein, Ezra (July 19, 2014). "Vox Conversations: Should America offer reparations for slavery?". Vox. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  33. ^ "Inside the Battle for Fair Housing in 1960s Chicago". The Atlantic. May 21, 2014. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  34. ^ George, Lynell (July 9, 2008). "Lessons from Dad". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  35. ^ Conan, Neal (June 9, 2008). "Struggling with Style – Ta-Nehisi Coates". Talk of the Nation. NPR. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  36. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (July 2014). "The Littlest Schoolhouse". The Atlantic. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  37. ^ Benjamin, Rich (September 1, 2016). "The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates review – subverting white expectations". The Guardian. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
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  40. ^ Stewart, Jon (July 23, 2015). "Exclusive – Ta-Nehisi Coates Extended Interview Pt. 1". The Jon Stewart Show. Archived from the original on July 27, 2015. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  41. ^ Goodman, Amy (July 22, 2015). "'Between the World and Me': Ta-Nehisi Coates Extended Interview on Being Black in America". Democracy Now!. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  42. ^ a b Gross, Terry (July 13, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates on Police Brutality, the Confederate Flag and Forgiveness". Fresh Air. NPR. Transcript. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  43. ^ Norris, Michele (July 10, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Looks at the Physical Toll of Being Black in America". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  44. ^ Hamilton, Jack (July 9, 2015). "Between the World and Me". Slate. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  45. ^ "The 2016 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in General Nonfiction | Finalist: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau)". pulitzer.com.
  46. ^ Alter, Alexandra (November 18, 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Wins National Book Award". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  47. ^ Guardian Staff (September 21, 2019). "The 100 best books of the 21st century". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  48. ^ Schedeen, Jesse (May 17, 2016). "Black Panther Rules April's Comic Book Sales". IGN.
  49. ^ Dockterman, Eliana (January 20, 2017). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Expanding the Black Panther Universe with The Crew". Time.
  50. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (May 15, 2017). "Marvel Cancels Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther & The Crew Comic After Two Issues". Time.
  51. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (February 28, 2018). "Why I'm Writing Captain America". The Atlantic.
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  54. ^ Quinn, Annalisa (September 26, 2019). "In 'The Water Dancer,' Ta-Nehisi Coates Creates Magical Alternate History". NPR.
  55. ^ "The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club)", Penguin Random House.
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  58. ^ "Author Ta-Nehisi Coates to Join Faculty of NYU's Carter Journalism Institute". New York University. January 30, 2017. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
  59. ^ Lumpkin, Lauren; Nick Anderson (July 6, 2021). "Nikole Hannah-Jones to join Howard faculty after UNC tenure controversy". Washington Post. Retrieved July 6, 2021.
  60. ^ a b "American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship". American Library in Paris. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  61. ^ Kaltenbach, Chris (May 4, 2015). "Md. Film Fest panel to feature David Simon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Taylor Branch, James McBride". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  62. ^ Cep, Casey N. (May 11, 2015). "Telling the Story of Civil Rights: A Conversation in Baltimore". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  63. ^ Branch, Taylor (2006). At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–68 (2006 Hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-85712-1. OCLC 62118415.
  64. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (March 5, 2014). "The Wire's David Simon Takes on Oprah-Produced HBO Mini on Martin Luther King". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  65. ^ Williams, Brennan (June 8, 2017). "Ryan Coogler And Michael B. Jordan Are Working on a Fourth Film Together". Huffington Post. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  66. ^ Mangum, Trey (February 26, 2021). "Exclusive: Ta-Nehisi Coates To Write Upcoming Superman Film From DC And Warner Bros". Shadow and Act. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  67. ^ Bonomolo, Cameron (January 22, 2024). "DC Chief James Gunn Updates Status of Elseworlds Superman Movie". comicbook.com. Retrieved January 28, 2024.
  68. ^ Klein, Ezra (February 18, 2020). "Ta-Nehisi Coates on why political power isn't enough for the right". Vox Media. I think those who perceive a threat symbolically from Barack Obama are kind of correct because kids are going to grow up and they're going to remember as a great authority figure this guy who was African American. And if it matters that all the other presidents before him were white, then it has to matter that he is black. So if white identity is important to you, then that might be threatening to you.
  69. ^ Capo Chichi, Sandro (November 27, 2014). "On the Etymology of the Egyptian word Nehesi 'Nubian'". NAC’s Journal of African Cultures & Civilizations. Paris. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
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  84. ^ "Jordan Peterson 'shocked' by Captain America villain Red Skull espousing '10 rules for life'". TheGuardian.com. April 7, 2021.
  85. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "A Change of Heart Towards Jordan | Africa Brooke | Mikhaila Peterson Podcast | #120". YouTube. October 14, 2021.
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External links[edit]