Ta-Nehisi Coates

On this date in 1975, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in Baltimore, Md. His father, William, was a former Black Panther who stayed at home to care for their large family while his mother, Cheryl, was the family’s breadwinner. Coates wrote about his childhood in his memoir “The Beautiful Struggle” and the impact that ongoing violence and crime had on him and his siblings.

Coates enrolled in Howard University but dropped out to become a journalist. After joining The Atlantic magazine, he became one of its widely read writers about race, history and politics. He won the 2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism and the 2014 George Polk Award for his feature article “The Case for Reparations,” in which he wrote, “More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.” He left his position as national correspondent for The Atlantic in 2018.

Coates was a Martin Luther King Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2013-14. He gives talks across the country about writing, race, politics, and white supremacy in America. He and his wife Kenyatta Matthews have a son, Samori Maceo-Paul Coates.

In 2015 he recieved a MacArthur “Genius” Award. His signature book, a New York Times 2015 best-seller, is Between the World and Me, which takes the form of a poignant letter to his teenage son. In it he wrote, “Perhaps struggle is all we have because the god of history is an atheist, and nothing about this world is meant to be. So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.”

His 2008 memoir about his father and himself is The Beautiful Struggle. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (2017) collected new and previously published essays on the Obama era. In 2016 he co-wrote a critically acclaimed graphic novel series titled “Black Panther and the Crew” for Marvel Comics that revived its Black Panther character, the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, first appearing in 1966. Coates continued as head writer until Marvel canceled the series in 2017 after six issues. Marvel capitalized on the revived popularity of the character with the 2018 hit movie “Black Panther,” with a sequel scheduled for release in 2020.

Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

Freedom From Religion Foundation