Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic and writes an immensely popular blog which was included on TIME Magazine‘s list of Best Blogs of 2011, with the motivation, “Like many of the world’s best bloggers Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates is impossible to pigeonhole.” Coates’ prose is electric, crackling with wit and intelligence. He tackles some of the most infected issues of our time – race, social inequality, masculinity – with a rare balance of passion and equanimity.
Coates grew up in a rough section of West Baltimore. His father was a former Black Panther and founded the publishing company Black Classic Press, which he ran out of their home. Coats’ 2008 memoir The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, is a lyric depiction of coming of age as an African American man in America.
Coates attended Howard University but dropped out to pursue journalism. He wrote for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and TIME Magazine before joining The Atlantic.
On May 2, 2013, he won a National Magazine Award for his article entitled “Fear of a Black President.”
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Tony Dorsett, the running back for the Dallas Cowboys. That’s what I wanted to be.
Did you play a lot of football on your own or was that just sort of a….?
I did, but I didn’t play too much on account of not being very good. You know, it was just something we did in the neighborhood, threw the football and ran around a lot, yeah, a lot of fun.
And were you a kid who told a lot of stories?
No, but, you know, I did ask a lot of questions. I asked a lot of questions. I really annoyed my brothers and sisters, I remember that.
You were the kid who was always saying, “Why? Why?”
Yes, that was me.
What was it you wanted to know?
Everything! I mean that was how I ultimately got into writing. Professionally I started off in journalism and the thing about journalism is, it’s a license to ask anybody anything. For a kid like me that was exciting, you know?
My dad read a lot, I do know that. My mom read a lot, there were books all over the house.
Your father actually ran a publishing company, right?
He did, he ran a small publishing company so there were books everywhere.
I was voracious, man. My natural inclination was to read.
Was there an early reading experience that was important to you?
Yeah, Choose Your Own Adventure. I was just like, “Wow, you get to sit in the driver’s seat.”
A lot of writers talk about that moment when they’re reading and they realize that someone actually wrote the story, that there’s someone behind the story.
And I think what you’re describing similar, right? That feeling that you wanted to control the narrative.
Yeah it was totally similar. It’s the idea that, “Hey you can’t do it.” You know what I mean? Choose Your Own Adventure says, “Yes, you can control the story.” It’s not even wondering, “Can I?” The answer is, “Yes, you can.” It’s actually not that much of a leap from saying, “I can control the story” to “I can actually write the story.”