The Water Dancer is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel. It debuted at number one on The New York Times fiction best-seller list and was a selection for Oprah's Book Club in 2019. Coates has said that he worked on the novel for a decade in “various degrees.” At the time he was researching slavery and the Civil War. He was also influenced by his longtime love of comic books and their heroes. In particular, he notes that through his Civil War studies he realized that “a lot of the people who were held up as heroic were in fact straight-up white supremacists.”
The Water Dancer received many very positive reviews, although some critics described the narrative as a “mess” and the plot as weak.