Staff Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’ve heard the name Ta-Nehisi Coates many times, for many different reasons. He is the award winning author of numerous novels, and is also the author of a 50-issue run of the “Black Panther” graphic novel series, as well as writing for the “Captain America” series of Marvel Comics. He is known for writing powerful stories that revolve around people of colour, and how they survive and endure despite the world being set up against them. In his nonfiction work “Between the World and Me”, Coates writes this book to his then 15 year old son, telling him of Coates’ journey from black boy to black man in America, and the struggles that came along with that. 

Coates tells his son of how he grew up and went on to attend Howard University. He met some impactful people there, including his future wife, Kenyatta Matthews, as well as his friend, Prince Carmen Jones Jr.. Prince, a father to an infant daughter and fiancé to Candace Carson, was tracked, shot and killed by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity. Coates writes at length about how Prince’s life and death as a fellow black man in America impacted Coates. This scenario is one that has been in the news countless times, where people of colour are unfairly targeted and gunned down without thought or sense from police. As with many other cases, Prince looked nothing like the man that was actually wanted, and was a victim of racial profiling.

Coates continues past his time at Howard and talks about the birth of his son, to whom the book is addressed. He tries to tell his son about how America is not a safe place for, as Coates refers to throughout the book, “the black body”. He discusses the ways that history has tried to destroy the black body over time, and how the people have persevered and continued to fight for their rights and freedoms.  As Coates tells his son: “You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” One of the most notable statements that Coates makes in the books is when he clarifies: “But race is the child of racism, not the father.”, which is, to me, one of the most thought provoking statements Coates makes.

One of the first things readers notice about the book is its structure. As mentioned, this book is written as a letter to Coates’ son, and the book reads as a mix between a letter format and a lyrical verse, creating a moving and impactful way for readers to connect with Coates, even if they have not faced the hardships and prejudices he has. His poetic verses make this book flow in a way that makes the troubling themes and events easier to understand and, I believe, more impactful on the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me”, and eagerly look forward to picking up more of his works. His lyricism, honesty and heart pour off the page and hold readers attention, and his subject matter is still important and necessary today. If you’re looking for something real, reflective and relevant, pick up Between the World and Me today!