In 2008, Ta-Nehisi Coates was finishing up editing his novel, “The Beautiful Struggle,” and looking forward to a new writing project: blogging at The Atlantic. This wasn’t his first launch into journalism; he had been working as a journalist at weekly papers for years. But at The Atlantic, Coates started covering a wide variety of issues on the publication’s blog, including politics, pop culture, sports and race. The latter became a key force in his work.
And now, the Baltimore native is having quite the year.
In addition to releasing a best-selling book, “Between the World and Me,” and receiving the coveted MacArthur Genius Fellow grant, a five-year, quarterly payment of $625,000, Coates is set to speak in Seattle, Oct. 29, to echo his heavy personal narrative of being black in America. He will speak on themes of race, class and history, which are all central to his work as an author and journalist.
“The work that he has been doing is so important in the conversation that we’re having in the nation right now,” said Ruth Dickey, executive director of Seattle Arts & Lecture, which is spearheading the evening.
With his long-form article, “The Case for Reparations,” Coates tackled the history of redlining and housing discrimination, expertly weaving in narratives and stacking historical evidence that has led to a present-day demand for restitution. In The Atlantic’s October issue, Coates examined the state of black families in America within a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects people of color.
These issues, and more, are incredibly relevant on a local level.
“The recent move to build a new youth jail is evidence of an interest in continuing mass incarceration locally. Who do we think would be the primary residents?” said Vivian Phillips, chair of the Seattle Arts Commission and moderator of the sold-out event.
“The massive loss of homes as a result of predatory lending happened in Seattle, and it happened to a lot of black people. Heck, it almost happened to me, and the real estate agent who sold me my home 20 years ago lost his own home as a result of fraudulent bank practices.” Phillips said. “This is another form of discrimination.”
Phillips equates the importance of Coates’ work to that of Martin Luther King Jr., Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin, whose void has been filled by Coates, according to renowned author Toni Morrison.
This event is particularly relevant for the Seattle Arts Commission. Just last year, it applied an “equity lens in all funding allocations,” and Coates’ journalism inspired the study that was brought forward in support of this decision, according to Dickey.
As what she calls “the voice leading a new narrative” of this generation, Phillips is eager (and intimidated) to present a conversation between Coates and the Seattle public.
“I want to get a better understanding of what he hopes for the future,” Phillips said, “and what role he thinks he can play in changing the narrative on the continuing decline of value for black life and black bodies.”