In the future, the very near future, I will get the chance to say I knew Ta-Nehisi Coates. And people won’t just fidget over his name. They’ll know that he is now an author with a celebrated book.
I used to work with the man, scholar, father, gentle giant, journalist, and music nerd back in the day [if back in the day means the late ’90s, the era of Puffy, when U Street had yet been taken over by developers and chains]. I’m still proud to know him, proud that he still responds to my e-mails and takes my calls, proud that he still really gives a shit about what goes on at his former workplace. But I’m most proud that he finally finished his memoir entitled: The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. You can buy it here.
Coates used to work at CP and by work I mean write massive, argumentative, beautifully earnest pieces like here and especially here and most famously here. That last link is for his piece on Howard University, a place he knew all to well. He wrote then about it:
The budget is balanced, the campus looks clean, and, academically, Howard has one of its best crops of students in recent memory. But the air of magic that the school once had—the aura of producing graduates who would literally change the complexion of the world—is gone. Current Howard students are strangers to the political activism that once made the university mythical in the eyes of black high school kids. And the school no longer has a monopoly on black America’s most distinguished faculty.
Swygert successfully warded off Howard’s demise, but no new myths are being added to Howard’s much treasured mystique, and a few important old ones are fading fast. Swygert has proved that, financially, a historically black institution can still float decades after integration. It’s still an open question, though, whether—culturally, intellectually, and politically—he or anyone else can figure out how to make it soar.
He’s gone on to work at other publications like the Village Voice and Time. But none of his work compares to the memoir. The Root recently excerpted it. And the piece reads like Junot Diaz if Diaz grew up in Baltimore with a Black Panther father and really, really dug De La and could articulate what it actually felt like to first hear Public Enemy. It is a remarkable piece. Frankly, it’s stunning.
We here expect Coates to get real big real soon. You can catch him before everyone else when he reads at Vertigo Books. The event is this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. For more details, you can check out Vertigo’s own write up.