Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Described as required reading by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ searing missive to his 15-year-old son Samori is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Through anecdotes and reflections, and analysis of history and language, Coates describes what it means to inhabit a black body in America today and, ultimately, provides a compelling argument for why the past is inseparable from our present. Coates writes to Samori: ‘Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”
The open letter is often misused, but it fits perfectly as the framing device for Between the World and Me, allowing Coates to be both personal and universal in his scope. Time and time again, he returns to fear and the realities of living with this emotion on a daily basis. And while Coates fears for the black body in a broad sense, this book is very much about fear for his son’s body, which he knows he cannot protect. Undoubtedly, this same fear is what propelled Cormac McCarthy to write The Road, but Coates does not need to create a fictional dystopia to raise the stakes in telling of his fear. Between the World and Me is about what is happening right now.
A national correspondent for the Atlantic and award-winning journalist, Coates has been lauded as one of America’s most important writers on the subject of race. I simply can’t imagine the person who could possibly remain unmoved by this book. Within the first few pages, I was swept up by Coates’ fierce intellect and raging passion as though I’d stepped into a fast-moving current. I read with my heart in my throat and for the final 50 or so pages I cried without stopping. Between the World and Me attests to the power of literature. It would be foolish (and insensitive) for me to claim I now completely understand Coates’ life and position as a black father in America. Rather, this book revealed something true to me, and it showed me what that might be like.