diversity | July 13, 2015

An Instant Classic, Even Sooner: Ta-Nehisi Coates's New Book on Race Gets Bumped Up

Demand for Ta-Nehisi Coates's new book is so great that the publisher, in a rare move, pushed up its release date. Between the World and Me—a slim but powerful book on race and America—hit bookstores today, two months sooner than planned. A surge in interest, the timely topic, and a confluence of other factors, including praise from John Legend, New Yorker editor David Remnick, and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison all played a role in the move. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly proclaimed: “This is a book that will be hailed as a classic of our time.”

Between the World and Me was written by Coates in the form of a letter to his fifteen-year-old son. What does it mean to grow up as a black man in America—facing both hostility and indifference? What are the long-simmering tensions behind the series of murders of unarmed black people in the past year? Between addresses the systemic racism that has roiled and, in many ways, defined America throughout its violent history. The plunder of black bodies, black lives, and black property—themes from Coates's award-winning Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations”—are addressed in the new book, but viewed through the prism of his personal life. In just 160 pages, it moves from the streets of Baltimore to the haven of Howard University to New York City to, finally, the avenues of Paris, France.

In the Wall Street Journal, Chris Jackson, executive director of Spiegel and Grau, the book's publisher, says: “It spoke to this moment. We started to feel pregnant with this book. We had this book that so many people wanted.” The Journal writes, “Mr. Jackson said the book speaks directly to the issues surrounding the killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., allegedly by a white supremacist, and the subsequent debate over the Confederate battle flag.” [Read Coates' article "Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now."]

In the editor's note included in the galley, Jackson mentions that The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin—another prominent intellectual who moved to Paris—was an inspiration for Between the World and Me. It's a fitting comparison. Toni Morrison herself connects the two authors: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is also the author of The Beautiful Struggle and a senior editor and writer for The Atlantic. In his talks, he delves into the conflicted and hopeful state of black America today. To book Ta-Nehisi Coates as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Up Next

social change | June 22, 2015