Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who covers politics and social issues as a national correspondent for The Atlantic and recently released his book entitled “Between the World and Me,” visited Kalamazoo on Tuesday Nov. 3. Coates was the keynote speaker at Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s 2015 community meeting in Miller Auditorium on Western Michigan University’s campus.
Before the meeting, Coates met with student journalists and writers interested in his newest book from Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and high schools in the Kalamazoo area, and answered their questions.
The question and answer session began with the connection that has been described between the work of Coates and the work of novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet James Baldwin. One student asked Coates how he felt about the opinion some have that he is the “next” Baldwin.
“James Baldwin represents a lot of things to a lot of people, so it’s very hard to get a next James Baldwin,” Coates responded. “[He is the] most beautiful essayist I’ve ever read. [He had] clarity, honesty, and mixed that with beautiful poetic language.”
He added, “I just wanted to write a good book.”
Coates went on to discuss some of his other influences, including E.L. Doctorow, and stated that one of his strongest influences was rapper and songwriter Nas.
“[I’m] heavily influenced by poetry,” Coates said. “I’m deeply concerned with rhythm and how sentences feel.”
The journalist explained to the students why he writes about social issues such as race relations in the United States.
“I’m Black. It didn’t feel like a choice, you know?” Coates said. “When you write something, you’re within it.”
The author of “The Beautiful Struggle” answered questions about Howard University posed by a high school student who had just applied to the university.
“Everyone should go to HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities),” Coates said with a smile. “I didn’t know Black people had any money until I went to Howard…I hadn’t experienced Black people with parents who weren’t both Black. I didn’t know Black people were into Marilyn Manson.”
“[Howard] was a very, very important place to me,” he added.
Coates also answered questions in regard to his thought process while writing his latest book and the idea of struggling.
“Struggle drives me to keep struggling,” Coates said “Struggling is working to a goal.”
He emphasized the importance of persevering in the face of difficulties. Coates said that the question he was trying to answer when he wrote his book, and the question that he thinks every person should try to answer is, “If I told you tomorrow that white supremacy would never be eradicated from this country, would you go home and lie in bed and eat a bag of Doritos?”