Biography of Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is best known for his writing in The Atlantic and the letter to his son that became the book Between the World and Me (2015).

Coates was born in Baltimore in 1975; he has said his name is Egyptian and loosely refers to Nubia. His father Paul was a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Black Panther Party. He was a self-taught historian and voracious reader, two qualities he passed on to his son. Coates’s mother Cheryl was a schoolteacher. He attended high school in Baltimore and then matriculated at Howard University in 1993 (he left after five years and did not receive a degree).

While he says he first considered his way out of Baltimore as hip-hop, he soon realized he was not very good at writing lyrics and turned to essays and journalism instead. At Howard and beyond he engaged with the work of black writers and intellectuals, particularly Malcolm X whom he considers his most significant influence. After Howard he lived in New York. In 2014 he took a seminar in French to prepare for a one-year writing fellowship in Paris.

In 2008 Coates published a memoir entitled The Beautiful Struggle. He started off writing for small alternative publications and then began writing for Slate and The Atlantic. His Atlantic essay “The Case for Reparations” (2014) attracted a copious amount of attention and debate. He is now a senior editor at the magazine. He has won the Kirkus Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship. Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award. A lifelong comic book fan, he just published The Black Panther (2016) for Marvel.

From 2012-2014 he was the MLK Visiting Professor at MIT, and was a journalist-in-residence at the City University of New York in 2014.

He is married to Kenyatta Matthews and has one son, Samori.


Study Guides on Works by Ta-Nehisi Coates