Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates delivering the keynote speech at the University of Virginia's 2015 Community Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
Coates delivering the keynote speech
at the University of Virginia's
2015 Community MLK Celebration
Born (1975-09-30) September 30, 1975 (age 40)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Education Howard University
Occupation Writer
Home town Baltimore, Maryland
Spouse(s) Kenyatta Matthews
Children 1
Awards 2014 George Polk Award for commentary
2015 MacArthur Fellows Program
2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Ta-Nehisi Coates (/ˌtɑːnəˈhɑːsi ˈkts/ TAH-nə-HAH-see KOHTS;[1] born September 30, 1975)[2] is an American writer, journalist, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as they regard African-Americans. 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, and other publications. In 2008 he 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. It won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.[3][4] He was the recipient of a "Genius Grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2015.[5]

Early life[edit]

Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to father William Paul "Paul" Coates,[6] a Vietnam War veteran, former Black Panther, publisher and librarian, and mother Cheryl Waters, who was a teacher.[7] Coates' 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. Initially the GJPM 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.[1][8] Coates' 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 lived with their father. Coates said he lived with his father the whole time.[1][9] In Coates' family, Coates said that the important overarching focus was on rearing children with values based on family, respect for elders and being a contribution to your community. This approach to family was not uncommon in the community where he grew up.[1] Coates grew up in the Mondawmin neighborhood of Baltimore[9] during the crack epidemic.[1]

Coates' interest in books was instilled at an early age when his mother in response to bad behavior would require him to write essays.[10] His father's work with the Black Classic Press was a huge influence on Coates, who said he read many of the books his father published.[1] Coates attended a number of Baltimore-area schools, including William H. Lemmel Middle School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, before graduating from Woodlawn High School.[11][12] Coates' father got a job as a librarian at Howard University, which enabled some of his children to attend with tuition remission.[9]

After high school, Coates attended Howard University. He left after five years to start a career in journalism. He is the only child in his family without a college degree.[9][13] In the summer of 2014, Coates attended an intensive program in French at Middlebury College to prepare for a writing fellowship in Paris.[14]


Coates at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival


Coates' first journalism job was as a reporter at the The Washington City Paper; his editor was David Carr.[15]

From 2000 to 2007, Coates worked as a journalist at various publications, including Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice and Time.[15] 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.[16] The article led to an appointment with a regular blog column for The Atlantic, a blog that was both popular, influential and had a high level of community engagement.[15]

Coates became a senior editor at The Atlantic, for which he wrote feature articles as well as maintained a 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"[15][17][18] and his June 2014 feature "The Case for Reparations",[19][20] have been especially praised, and have won his blog a place on the Best Blogs of 2011 list by Time magazine.[21] and the 2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism from The Sidney Hillman Foundation.[15][22] Coates' blog has also 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."[23][24][25]

In discussing The Atlantic article on "The Case for Reparations", Coates said he had worked on the article for almost two years. Coates had read Rutgers University professor Beryl Satter's book, Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America,[26] 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.[27][28] 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.[27]

Coates has worked as a guest columnist for The New York Times, having turned down an offer from them to become a regular columnist.[15] He has also written for The Washington Post, the Washington Monthly and O magazine.[15]

Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic.[29]

Coates is outspoken on Twitter, where he often tackles current events dealing with race relations in America and engages with many of his followers.[30]


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.[31] In the book, he discusses the influence of his father, a former Black Panther;[32] the prevailing street crime of the era and its effects on his older brother;[33] his own troubled experience attending Baltimore-area schools;[34] and his eventual graduation and enrollment in Howard University.[11]

Between the World and Me[edit]

Coates' second book, Between the World and Me, was published in July 2015.[35] Coates said that one of the origins of the book came from the murder of a college friend Prince Carmen Jones Jr. who was killed by police in a case of mistaken identity.[36][37] In an ongoing discussion about reparation, continuing the work of his June 2014 The Atlantic article on reparation, Coates cited the bill sponsored by Representative John Conyers "H.R.40 - Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act"[38] that has been introduced every year[39][40] since 1989.[41] One of the themes of the book was about what physically affected African-American lives, their bodies being enslaved, violence that came from slavery, and various forms of institutional racism.[29][42] In a review for Politico, 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."[43] 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".[44]


Coates was the 2012–14 MLK visiting professor for writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[15][45]

He joined the City University of New York as its journalist-in-residence in the fall of 2014.[46]

Upcoming projects[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Coates says that his first name, Ta-Nehisi, is an Egyptian name his father gave him that means Nubia, and in a loose translation is "land of the black".[29] Nubia is a region along the Nile river located in present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt.[9][53] As a child, Coates enjoyed comic books and Dungeons & Dragons.[9]

Coates resides in Harlem[1] with his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, and son, Samori Maceo-Paul Coates.[54][55][56] His son is named after Samori Ture, a Mandé chief who fought French colonialism, after black Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo Grajales, and after Coates' father.[57] Coates met his wife when they were both students at Howard University.[57] He is an atheist and a feminist.[58][59][60]




  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Asphalt Sketches. Baltimore, Maryland: Sundiata Publications, 1990. OCLC 171149459 Book of poetry.
  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 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
  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 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




  1. ^ a b c d e f g Gross, Terry (18 February 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Unlikely Road to Manhood'". Fresh Air (NPR). Retrieved 15 August 2015. The name derives from the Egyptian name of Nubia, nḥsy, for which the vowels are unknown. 
  2. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2 July 2015). "Brief But Spectacular: Ta-Nehisi Coates". PBS Newshour. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "2015 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  4. ^ Alter, Alexandra (19 November 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Wins National Book Award". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  5. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (29 September 2015). "MacArthur 'Genius Grant' Winners for 2015 Are Announced". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (23 November 2013). "In Defense of a Loaded Word". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  7. ^ Bodenner, Chris (26 July 2015). "Between the World and Me Book Club: Your Critical Thoughts". The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  8. ^ 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 1 September 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Pride, Felicia (4 June 2008). "Manning Up: The Coates Family's Beautiful Struggle in Word and Deed". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on 6 June 2008. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  10. ^ "One on 1 Profile: Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes the Next Big Step in His Career". NY1. June 9, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2008). The Beautiful Struggle. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-385-52036-2. OCLC 190784908. 
  12. ^ a b M. Owens, Donna (29 January 2015). "Baltimore-born Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his case". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  13. ^ "The guest list". Vibe, November 2004.
  14. ^ Jefferson, Tara (24 August 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Presents "Case For Reparations" At City Club Of Cleveland". Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Smith, Jordan Michael (5 March 2013). "Fear of a Black Pundit". New York Observer. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (May 2008). "'This Is How We Lost to the White Man'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (August 22, 2012). "Fear of a Black President". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  18. ^ Levenson, Tom (September 28, 2012). "Notable narrative: "Fear of a Black President", by Ta-Nehisi Coates". Nieman Storyboard. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  19. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (June 2014). "The Case for Reparations". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  20. ^ Roig-Franzia, Manuel (June 18, 2014). "With Atlantic article on reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates sees payoff for years of struggle". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Full List – The Best Blogs of 2011". Time magazine
  22. ^ "2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism: Ta-Nehisi Coates". Sidney Hillman Foundation. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  23. ^ Garfield, Bob (December 30, 2011). "How to create an engaging comments section". On the media. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  24. ^ Azi, Paybarah (October 22, 2010). "NPR's guide to blogging: act like Andrew Sullivan, Ben Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates". WNYC. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ a b Klein, Ezra (19 July 2014). "Vox Conversations: Should America offer reparations for slavery?". Vox. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  28. ^ "Inside the Battle for Fair Housing in 1960s Chicago". The Atlantic. 21 May 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  29. ^ a b c Gross, Terry (13 July 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates On Police Brutality, The Confederate Flag And Forgiveness". Fresh Air (NPR). Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  30. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) | Twitter". twitter.com. Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  31. ^ George, Lynell (9 July 2008). "Lessons from Dad". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  32. ^ Conan, Neal (9 June 2008). "Struggling with Style - Ta-Nehisi Coates". NPR - Talk of the Nation. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  33. ^ Spalter, Mya (18 February 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Beautiful Struggle' to Manhood". NPR. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  34. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (July 2014). "The Littlest Schoolhouse". The Atlantic. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  35. ^ Jennifer Maloney (25 June 2015). "Random House Moves Up Release of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Book on Race Relations". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  36. ^ Stewart, Jon (23 July 2015). "Exclusive - Ta-Nehisi Coates Extended Interview Pt. 1". The Jon Stewart Show. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  37. ^ Goodman, Amy (22 July 2015). ""Between the World and Me": Ta-Nehisi Coates Extended Interview on Being Black in America". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  38. ^ Conyers, John (20 November 1989). "H.R.3745 -- Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act (Introduced in House - IH)". Library of Congress. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  39. ^ Conyers, John (3 January 2013). "H.R.40 - Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act". Congress.gov. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  40. ^ Conyers, John. "Issues: Reparations". John Conyers Jr. United States Congressman. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  41. ^ Colbert, Stephen (16 June 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates". The Colbert Report. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  42. ^ Norris, Michele (10 July 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Looks At The Physical Toll Of Being Black In America". Morning Edition (NPR). Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  43. ^ Rich Lowry (July 22, 2015). "The Toxic World-View of Ta-Nehisi Coates". Politico. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 
  44. ^ Jack Hamilton (July 9, 2015). "Between the World and Me". Slate. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  45. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates is 2012–2013 MLK Visiting Scholar". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  46. ^ Dunkin, Amy (1 May 2014). "Ta-Nehisi Coates Named Journalist-in-Residence for the Fall Semester". CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  47. ^ Kaltenbach, Chris (4 May 2015). "Md. Film Fest panel to feature David Simon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Taylor Branch, James McBride". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  48. ^ Cep, Casey N. (11 May 2015). "Telling the Story of Civil Rights: A Conversation in Baltimore". The New Yorker. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  49. ^ 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. 
  50. ^ Fleming, Jr., Mike (5 March 2014). "‘The Wire’s David Simon Takes On Oprah-Produced HBO Mini On Martin Luther King". Deadline.com. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  51. ^ a b "American Library in Paris - Visiting Fellowship: Library Fellows 2014-2015". American Library in Paris. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  52. ^ Gustines, George Gene (22 September 2015). "Ta-Nehisi Coates to Write Black Panther Comic for Marvel". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 September 2015. 
  53. ^ Morton, Paul. "An Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates". Bookslut. Retrieved March 31, 2014. 
  54. ^ Smith, Jordan Michael (March 5, 2013). "Fear of a Black Pundit: Ta-Nehisi Coates raises his voice in American media". New York Observer. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  55. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (March 2002). "Confessions of a Black Mr. Mom". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  56. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates". The Lavin Agency. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  57. ^ a b Coates, Ta-Nehisi (January 2006). "Promises of an Unwed Father". O: the Oprah Magazine. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  58. ^ "The Myth of Western Civilization". The Atlantic. December 31, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2015. 
  59. ^ "Ta-Nehisi Coates on Twitter: "3. Contemporary feminist critiques (40s-60s) would be awesome, but basically taking what I can get now. #twitterstorians"". Twitter.com. December 29, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2015. 
  60. ^ "What Hath Feminism Wrought". The Atlantic. August 31, 2010. Retrieved July 13, 2015. 
  61. ^ Staff (2 May 2013). "The Atlantic Wins Two National Magazine Awards". The Atlantic. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  62. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (15 February 2015). "Polk Awards in Journalism Are Announced, Including Three for The Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  63. ^ Fillo, MaryEllen (9 June 2015). "Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates Humbly Accepts Award From Harriet Beecher Stowe Center". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  64. ^ http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/09/2015-macarthur-genius-grants-announced/407758/?utm_source=SFTwitter

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