Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks at Event Attended by Shortridge Students and Faculty

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Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks at Event Attended by Shortridge Students and Faculty

El'ad Nichols-Kaufman, Author

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On Wednesday, March fifth, a group of Shortridge students and teachers were given tickets by generous donors to hear the renowned author Ta-Nehisi Coates speak in a moderated conversation at Clowes hall as a part of the Library’s 42nd annual Marian McFadden Lecture. This was a stunning experience for all that attended, and being able to hear Mr. Coates express his thoughts and reflect on his experience live on stage can hardly be summarized in an article.

 

The discussion was balanced between talking about race relations in the U.S., writing and the personal experiences of Ta-Nehisi Coates. On the first topic, Mr. Coates talked about how his views and experiences have grown and evolved since he began writing, and how he now realizes how important the black experience was to America. The African American experience, from 250 years of slavery to 150 of freedom, was vital in building the nation and enriching white America, and if you take it away from the American experience it ceases to be the American experience. He also discussed his relative optimism for the direction in which race relations were improving in this country. When asked about redlining and gentrification, he explained that all these interconnected issues essentially boil down to theft. When you need a baseline of money to improve your life, but you can’t because that basic income was stolen via the system of slavery, you can’t improve your life. This is compounded by the issue of having a network of only people who were stolen from, due to segregation. He used the analogy of having your couch and t.v. stolen, but you can’t go sit on your neighbor’s couch to watch t.v., because they were also stolen from. Only with an intentional effort to redistribute what was stolen can we end the economic aspect of race relations.

On writing, Coates discussed the processes his books went through before publishing. He said that when people praise his books, it’s like when people praise your kids. You nod, and think of all the times they’ve misbehaved getting to this point. Writing was difficult, and you can’t write something that you hope will be the National Book Award Winner, because odds are it won’t. Rather, you have to write something that needs to be written. He also described his struggles with the book that is set to come out soon, “The Water Dancer” which he began even before he wrote Between the World and Me. He described sending it off to the publisher, and getting a two thousand word response which boiled down to “Bruh, this ain’t it.” He re-wrote the book, and sent it back in, only to have his editor come over to his house to talk with him, a conversation which boiled down to “Bruh, this ain’t it.” He then rewrote all the whole four hundred page novel, which he hopes to be his entrance to the world of fiction.

 

Overall, Mr. Coates talk impacted deeply the students who attended, as his speaking’s greatest value was the way he thought on stage. When asked a question, he didn’t just make some sort of grand pronouncement, but rather walked the audience through his process, in a way that was relatable and simple. Those who attended this talk will not forget the impact that he has had on us, and appreciate the greater understanding of issues which face our country today.