black america | April 10, 2011

A Hip-Hop Approach to the Past: Ta-Nehisi Coates On His Upcoming Novel

“Black history is so often rendered as series of episodes of suffering, stunning triumphs, and painful disappointments,” Ta-Nehisi Coates recently told The Rumpus. “I don’t have much interest in any of that.” Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, was discussing his upcoming novel, which will be told through the voices — “the language of the time” — of an interracial family in pre Civil War Virginia. In the wide-ranging interview, Coates also compared William Faulkner to Nas and touched on the influence of hip-hop on his two books. Talking about his first book — The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir about growing up in Baltimore during the age of crack — Coates writes, “What I hoped to do was create a work wherein the voice — the allusions, the rhythm, the entire style — summoned up the era of my youth.” Turning the conversation to his upcoming novel, which seeks to understand what it might have felt like to be a Southerner before, during, and immediately after the Civil War, Coates points out that it, too, “deploys that same hip-hop approach — trying to summon up the past through the vernacular and cadence of the era.” He continues: “I’m more interested in taking inspiration from the way people wrote and spoke and creating something that feels true to that time, but probably won’t be a Xerox of that time.”

For more on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ thoughts on Virginia, check out this blog post as well as the video above, in which he interviews a Civil War historian about how black soldiers transformed America. The video originally accompanied his Atlantic article about Wal-Mart’s plans to build a store on a historically significant Civil War site in Virginia.

Read more about keynote speaker Ta-Nehisi Coates

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