A journalist, activist, intellectual, and the author of this book, Coates grew up in the ghettos of Baltimore, attended Howard University, and became a writer for multiple publications. Most of his intellectual development took place at Howard, where he studied history and the great black writers of the past and this age; Malcolm X is one of the most formative influences on him. He is deeply concerned with his son growing up in an America that devalues and destroys black bodies, and ultimately concludes that there is not much hope of white America addressing this. All Samori can really do is struggle and live a life of meaning.
Coates's wife and the mother of his son Samori, Kenyatta grew up in a well-to-do household but, like Coates, did not know her father. Coates meets Kenyatta at Howard and they begin dating and have Samori when they are in their early twenties. They live in Brooklyn and Paris. Kenyatta is fascinated with Paris and travels there when she turns thirty.
Coates's son (to whom the book is addressed), he was named for a man who resisted French colonizers. Samori is fifteen when the book is written. He has grown up in a privileged and intellectual household, but is still coming to terms with what being a young black man in America means.
A classmate of Coates's at Howard, he was killed by the Prince George County police as a young man. Prince was handsome, charming, intelligent, and from a privileged background. None of this could save him though, Coates writes, from the destruction of his black body.
Dr. Mabel Jones
Prince Jones's mother, Mabel grew up poor. She integrated her high school and became a track star and class president. She is the ancestor of slaves, but worked her way up to chief of radiology at a hospital. She is tenacious and elegant, and raised her children with all of the trappings of a wealthy life. She spoke with Coates at the end of the novel of her sorrow regarding her son's death.
Coates's father, he was a member of the Black Panther party and was a voracious reader. He was hard on his son, but taught him how to navigate this difficult life.
Between the World and Me Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Between the World and Me is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.