As most of you know, the 2015 National Book Awards winners were announced this week. I did a quick skim of the list and was incredibly pleased to find that Ta-Nehisi Coates had won the non-fiction category. I had read his book in short bursts on the subway to and from work—a small volume, but one that I could only read in small doses. Reading his work, I was reminded of a class I had taken my senior year in college, titled “Black Apocalyptic Fiction.” We had discussed a question similar to what Coates asks in Between the World and Me: “What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?” My final paper for that class focused on art and scholarship and how so much art and literature was focused on eventually creating a kind of scholarship that people used to dehumanize African American bodies.
So I was particularly interested when I noticed Coates’s answer to the question that the NBA posed to each finalist and winner: “In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?”
Coates answered, “I discovered how hard it was to make the abstract into the something visceral. My goal was to take numbers and stats and make people feel them with actual stories. It was to take scholarship and make it literature.” (emphasis mine)
I have immense hope—despite everything—that scholarship will continue to emerge through literature created by people of color and that a new art will emerge as a reclamation of the body and self.
Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’s acceptance speech:
What did you think of this year’s winners? What do you think about the future of diverse authors?