Life is too short to read everything. It may even be too short to major in american studies, history, or English. This column, brought to you by professors in american studies, history, and English, highlights the books you simply cannot let pass, whatever your major. Start your list!
by: Dr. René Alexander Orquiza Assistant Professor of History
Unfortunately, the message of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me has largely been obscured by haters and trolls. Many were jealous of his accomplishments—a MacArthur genius grant and a Pulitzer Prize finalist—and accused him of borrowing too heavily from academic studies.
But perhaps the importance of Coates’ work is how he makes some of the most essential questions of contemporary America—racial inequality in the justice system, the lack of black men in higher education, the use of prisons as a new Jim Crow—accessible to both experts and novices alike.
Coates wrote the book as a letter to his son, an approach he borrowed from James Baldwin’s letters to his nephew in his seminal 1963 book The Fire Next Time. He tells his son some of his hopes, dreams, fears, and thoughts of how to navigate an inherently unequal society as a young black man.
Inspired by the death of a friend from Howard University at the hands of the police, Coates pleads for his son to live the full life he knows many African American men cannot. An essential part of that fulfillment is books, and as the son of a former radical bookstore owner in Baltimore and a former investigative newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C., Coates shows just how much he believes literature is key to interrogating the world. Between the World and Me provides compelling answers to some of the most difficult questions on race, justice, and democracy in America today.