“Last Sunday the host of popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body,” tweeted Ta-Nehisi Coates on Tuesday evening. “She did not mention my body specifically but by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.”
Anyone following the Atlantic senior writer was pleasantly surprised that the series of tweets are an excerpt from his upcoming book, Between the World and Me.
Set to be released on
September 8, 2015 July 14, 2015* via Spiegel & Grau, the 176-page memoir takes the form of a letter to his teenage son to convey Coates’ understanding of race and history, as well as hopes for his son’s life.
In the one hundred fifty years since the end of the Civil War and the ratificiation of the Thirteenth Amendment, the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: It is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country’s foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war, and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up, and killed in our streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all—regardless of race—honestly reckon with our country’s fraught racial history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer those questions, presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his own awakening to the truth about history and race through a series of revelatory experiences: immersion in nationalist mythology as a child; engagement with history, poetry, and love at Howard University; travels to Civil War battlefields and the South Side of Chicago; a journey to France that reorients his sense of the world; and pilgrimages to the homes of mothers whose children’s lives have been taken as American plunder. Taken together, these stories map a winding path toward a kind of liberation—a journey from fear and confusion to a full and honest understanding of the world as it is.
Masterfully woven from lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me offers a powerful new framework for understanding America’s history and current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Named the “single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” by The New York Observer, Coates published his first book, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, in 2008.
In 2014, he laid out “The Case for Reparations,” a 10-chapter, 15,000-word cover story in The Atlantic, which focused on housing discrimination. Coates received the George Polk Award for the article.
Last month, he spoke on some of the issues covered in his Atlantic piece, specifically as they pertain to his native Baltimore, at John’s Hopkins University’s Race In America Forum. Watch below.
*Update: Between the World and Me‘s release date was moved up in June, following the Charleston shooting and a wave of interest spurred by comments from David Remnick, John Legend, and Toni Morrison, the latter of whom wrote:
“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”