Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the foremost public intellectuals working today, and it isn't reaching to put him in the neighborhood of luminaries like Umberto Eco and Susan Sontag. In April, when The Cabin literary center announced he would be a speaker during its next season of the Readings & Conversations series, a packed Egyptian Theatre leaped to its feet in astonishment. He'll be in Boise on Monday, Oct. 7, for a conversation with Mitchell S. Jackson on the Morrison Center stage.
For readers of his books and articles in The Atlantic (he left thee magazine in 2018), his personality is astonishingly familiar and accessible. His second book, Between the World and Me (2015), made his a household name. An open letter to his son, it's a soulful confession about his awakening to the fact of racism in America, and if anything, a primer for understanding his thought and broader project as a chronicler of the issues facing black people in America. The slim volume was a massive bestseller, a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the winner of the National Book Award.
He most recently made waves this past June, when he appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the case for slavery reparations. It's a subject he knows intimately, having written an extensive article about it in The Atlantic, which he included in his chrestomathy, We Were Eight Years in Power (2017). His thesis about the intergenerational effects of slavery has been both food for thought and a bone of contention.
His comics work is as compelling as his prose, and his run as writer for Marvel Comics' Black Panther has been well-received by critics and fans alike—the first issue with his byline sold more than a quarter-million physical copies when it was released in April 2016.
Coates' latest venture is his debut as a novelist. In The Water Dancer, which was released Sept. 24, a slave discovers he is imbued with a mysterious superpower, and finds himself embroiled in an underground war of liberation.
At the Morrison Center, the audience will likely find Coates soft-spoken and thoughtful, much like the figure he cut in Between the World and Me, but his line of thought has attracted a healthy portion of controversy, and after his talk, Boise will have a lot to digest.