Ta-Nehisi Coates, from Politics to Poetry

    by Dori J. Maynard
    December 8, 2008

    Go to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog and you don’t know if you’re going to find a post on politics, poetry, the NFL or the world of videogames.

    A journalist who has worked at Time Magazine and the Village Voice, Coates started his own blog after being laid off from Time Magazine. Then, back in August, the author of the recently released “The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood,” was added to the magazine’s roster of bloggers at the Atlantic.com.

    There he continues to interweave culture and politics in posts that ruminate on topics ranging from questioning whether the number of unwed mothers in the African American community really has increased, to the intellectual laziness that prompts people to rely on history to predict the future.


    In one post headlined “OK Now I’m Reaching,” he used the lyrics of a Bill Withers song as the jumping-off point to discuss Andrew Bacevich’s book “The Limits of Power,” an examination of how the American public’s collective refusal to forgo gas-guzzling cars and live within our means is at the heart of our current crisis. Coates said the following:
    “The thing I always liked about Bill Withers’ ‘Use Me’ was that it was a man’s critique of a dysfunctional relationship. Unlike a lot of rappers, Withers doesn’t blame the girl, he blames himself, going so far as to say, “It ain’t too bad the way you using me, because I sure am using you to do that thing we do.” In fact he laughs at the people trying to help him, much as one might picture people laughing at some lefty for telling them “they aren’t voting their interest.” In that respect, I think Bacevich’s critique is a man’s critique of another, very similar, dysfunctional relationship. It’s easy to think we’ve been conned into this current crisis. But what if this is the world as we want it? I think it’s imperative to never forget that humans are animals. What if, in the words of Bob, we’re just fulfilling the book? What if it isn’t even dysfunctional? What if this is just who we are?”

    Here is the 32-year-old writer and blogger in his own words:

    How would you describe your blog?
    Hmm. That’s tough. It’s basically Ta-Nehisi thinking out loud. That really is the essence of it.


    How did you come to the attention of the Atlantic?
    I pitched them a piece on Bill Cosby. I’d been working on it, while I was a staff writer at Time. But I got laid off and had all this great reporting. I just took it with me to the Atlantic.

    How long were you blogging before you moved?
    About eight months.

    Who is your audience and do you think it has changed since you moved to the Atlantic?
    Well, the Atlantic is huge, and traffic has grown about tenfold. The obvious answer is it’s gotten whiter. But that’s not because black folks have stopped reading. More likely, it’s because there’s just more white people out there.

    Do you think the presidential race has increased your readership?
    Unquestionably. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll hold on, now that it’s over.

    What is your goal?
    To be a great writer.

    What are you proudest of?
    My family — my 8-year-old son, Samori, and beautiful partner, Kenyatta.

    What is your background?
    Raised in West Baltimore, amongst a gaggle of kids. Went to Howard University, and dropped out when I found writing. Been living in New York now for about eight years.

    Do you think of yourself as a journalist?
    Hmmm. I think of myself as a writer.

    Where do you see the future of journalism?
    I have no idea. I love long-form, and I’m most concerned about its future.

    What blogs do you read?
    Matt Yglesias
    The TNR blogs
    Ezra Klein

    How do you get your news?
    From the New York Times and the blogosphere.

    What do you think about the power of the black blogosphere?
    I don’t know. I’m not sure about the power of the blogosphere, much less the black one. I hope we thrive, obviously.

    Tagged: blogs obama poetry politics videogames

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