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Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses ‘Between the World and Me’ at the Schomburg in Harlem

PHOTO BY: Terrence Jennings

Photo by: Terrence Jennings

Ta-Nehisi Coates engaged in a conversation about his new book, Between the World and Me. Luminaries such as Common, Meshell N’Dgeocello and Usher were on-hand to hear what the writer had to say about his work. Discussing his difficulties with finding himself, and his struggle with being so prominent in the public eye, Coates gave an eye-opening and earnest discussion, much to the delight of those in attendance.

Coates was asked about criticism he’s received from peers and established voices such as Cornel West.

“I don’t know what happened with Cornel West,” Coates said. “We went back and forth on this book and my utmost concern was … that this would be successful. You spend all that time working on it and then somebody writes a Facebook post. A noted professor writes a Facebook post. And it’s clear that what they read was the blurb. I don’t think Cornel West had any idea who I was.”

While admitting that he’s been “shocked by this entire thing,” he was also forthright about his struggles as a writer.

Coates has obviously emerged as the most recognized voice amongst Black cultural commentators in recent years, but he thinks that what motivated him was not seeing a perspective that felt honest to his perspective in others’ writing.

“You would talk to folks and they would be aware of certain truths and you could feel them pulling their punches. I think that’s disrespectful to white people. I don’t see how you are respecting folks by not speaking truthfully and from the heart. I don’t personalize stuff, but the history is what the history is. But it’s disrespectful to white people to soften the history or talk to them like they’re three years old. If I go hear a lecture on feminism or LGBT rights, I don’t want you to soften it for me,” he said.

When Coates was asked if he had initial difficulties in getting his voice out there, he admitted that he didn’t take the standard route that many would expect of a now-successful writer.

“I did not have much success with the traditional things. I was not a good student. I was very confused about what my life was and what it was going to be. I never had much to fall back on. As a writer, I never really felt like I had that much to lose. This was all I had. And if it wasn’t going to be this, then whatever … I’ve been writing for 20 years. This recent thing is just the last three years,” he said.