Ta-Nehisi Coates wins again.5:11 PM, Nov 19, 2015 • By JIM SWIFT
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates has won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me.
The New York Times, in reporting on the awards, called it "a visceral, blunt exploration of his experience of being a black man in America, which was published this summer in the middle of a national dialogue about race relations and inequality..." and that Coates "won comparisons to the work of James Baldwin."
For readers who may have missed Christopher Caldwell's WEEKLY STANDARD feature on Coates, his book, and recent essays, here are a few choice excerpts:
For decades, several books every publishing season have promised an “authentic” account of the experience of being black in America. But the 39-year-old Coates, a Baltimore native, has struck it very big. We learn from New York magazine that he even shows up late for meetings with the president. Coates claims as his model a classic of the black autobiographical genre, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963). It is not immediately clear, though, what distinguishes Coates’s effort from the heap of less distinguished books written in Baldwin’s wake. To figure this out one must look at “The Case for Reparations,” a 16,000-word essay Coates wrote for the Atlantic last year, which won him a wide Internet following. The article makes no explicit “case” that someone should pay today’s blacks for the mistreatment of yesterday’s. The case gets made by implication, through a thumbnail history of American slavery, the racial prejudice that underlay it, and the inequality and injustice that survived it.
This book is short, simple, monomaniacal, and punchy. That can be a plus. “Visceral” and “direct” are two perfectly appropriate adjectives that have been much conferred. And yet, critics have felt the need to praise the book for the very virtues in which it is most obviously deficient. Jack Hamilton, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, writes in Slate: “Coates is more teacher than preacher, a polymath whose breadth of knowledge on matters ranging from literature to pop culture to French philosophy to the Civil War bleeds through every page of his book, distilled into profound moments of discovery, immensely erudite but never showy.” Not a word of this is true. Coates may well possess this knowledge privately, and there are signs of it in his reparations article, but it is wholly absent from his book. What Civil War? The two pages describing battlefields he toured with his son after page 99? What French philosophy? Coates mentions Sartre and Camus once, on page 122, but only to say he’s never read them. Coates himself, while he professes a love of books and learning, makes no claim to erudition, “immense” or otherwise.
In general, black writers have been more balanced in their assessment of the book. The linguist John McWhorter, for instance, who is one of the rare American commentators of any race who actually can lay claim to a broad erudition, was taken aback by the “almost tearfully ardent praise” for Coates’s reparations piece. McWhorter dismissed one of Coates’s more exuberant fans as having written “the kind of thing one formerly said of the Greatest Story Ever Told,” and described Coates as fulfilling the role of a priest in some new religion of antiracism.
Read the entirety of Caldwell's piece here.
It may be too early to say.Sep 14, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 01 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
In the early 1990s, amid public outrage over Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexually explicit photographs, including several of private parts, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) would settle arguments on the matter by pulling out his own. That the most avowedly conservative politician in America felt the need to carry around such a photograph shows how controversies over public morality were then dominating politics.
Why are critics so deferential to the radicalism of Ta-Nehisi Coates?Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Maybe “Culture Belongs to Everyone,” as they say at New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park shows, but the works of Atlantic essayist and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates appear to exist in another realm altogether. In the weeks since the publication of Between the World and Me, Coates’s letter to his teenage son about the perils and promise of being black and male in America, critics have struggled to find adjectives to match his achievements.
Christopher Caldwell meets Ignominous IgnácMar 23, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 27 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
On a bright, zero-degree morning last month, as I was happily making my bed in the attic of friends in Brooklyn, I thought with a shudder of Ignác Hrubý. Being a houseguest is one of my joys. It combines security and adventure, familiarity and independence. Having houseguests used to be a joy, too. Until Iggy’s visit.
Bob Dylan’s ‘Basement Tapes’Mar 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 26 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
In the mid-1960s the most celebrated folk musician of his era bought a house for his growing family at the southern edge of the Catskills, in the nineteenth-century painters’ retreat of Woodstock. He was a “protest singer,” to use a term that was then new. His lyrics—profound, tender, garrulous—sounded like they were indicting the country for racism (“where black is the color where none is the number”), or prophesying civil war (“you don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows”), or inviting young people to smoke dope (“everybody must get stoned”).
Christopher Caldwell, Hydrox hypochondriac Nov 3, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 08 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
A lot of people worry about Ebola these days. Not me. I’m calm, relatively speaking. That is, I’m calm, relative to the shuddering, sobbing basket case that the mere thought of infectious disease once reduced me to.
Christopher Caldwell's near-miss with destinyJul 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 41 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
A few weeks ago the Times Literary Supplement ran a photograph of the grisliest act of violence in Italy since World War II—Italy’s equivalent of our own September 11 attacks. In 1980 a shadowy group of homegrown terrorists planted a time bomb in the waiting room of the Bologna Central station. When it went off at 10:25 a.m., the roof collapsed on bystanders. The blast cut through people standing on the platform and blew apart much of a nearby train. Eighty-five dead, hundreds wounded.
Bad omens.9:30 AM, Jun 1, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
The most ominous aspect of the flotilla incident is Turkey's involvement. The flotilla bound for Gaza, in violation of the blockade, was allowed to leave a Turkish port. The main sponsor was a Turkish charity known for ties to jihadist groups. The Turkish diplomatic and governmental apparatus sprung into action at the first sign of trouble -- which of course there was, since the "peace activists" onboard the flotilla were masked and armed with lead pipes and knives.
The issue that won't go away.3:36 PM, May 6, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
When I first heard about Arizona law SB 1070, I was taken aback. Press coverage suggested the law authorized state and local police to go around demanding someone's papers on the slightest suspicion that he or she is an illegal immigrant. The clear implication was that Hispanic communities would be targeted. And since this seemed to violate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure and equality before the law, my inclination was to oppose the bill.
Final reflections on Communism’s failure.Mar 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 23 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Last Exit to Utopia
The Survival of Socialism
in a Post-Soviet Era
by Jean-François Revel