Between the World and Me Study Guide

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s acclaimed letter to his teenage boy, Samori, about what it indicates to be a black person in America. It covers the individual, such as maturing in Baltimore and his growing of an intellectual and political consciousness at Howard University in the 1990s, and the historic, as seen in his discussion of the methods which the black body has constantly been privy to destruction. Composed in a strong, instant, and at times enthusiastic and upset voice, Coates puts contemporary occasions like the killings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in this larger narrative of black struggle. One of his main themes is the “Dream” – the world in which people who call themselves white occupy and the one they do not desire black bodies within; the Dream is attractive but incorrect.

The letter came about for a few reasons. He satisfied President Obama in 2013 and was irritated with himself for being so deferential when he had challenging concerns for the President on race. At their second meeting he was more direct, discussing health care and its racial measurements. Obama pulled Coates aside and referenced a criticism Coates had actually made of him on his blog site concerning Obama’s declaration that African Americans had “lost their way” and needed to take more personal responsibility. Obama said Coates had been unfair, and as he left, told Coates, “Do not misery.” Around this time Coates had actually been going over James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and asked his editor why no one composed like Baldwin any longer. His editor suggested he try, so Coates began to write a letter to his child much in the style of Baldwin’s letter to his nephew. His kid’s heartbroken action to the exoneration of the officer who eliminated Brown likewise influenced the advancement of the work.

Even though Coates composed the book as a letter to his kid, he asked him about it initially and revealed him drafts. He said he would not have actually released it without his kid’s consent.

The work was at first slated to appear in October 2015 however was bumped up to July after the Charleston church shooting in which a white supremacist targeted black churchgoers. Critics practically all admired the work. It won the 2015 National Book Award and the NAACP Image Award; it was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It spent numerous weeks on the New York Times Finest Seller list and made it onto numerous “10 Best Books of the Year” lists in 2015.

The only person Coates sought a recommendation from was Toni Morrison. Although he and his editor did not understand her, they got the galley in her hands and her assistant forwarded her action: “I have actually been wondering who may fill the intellectual space that afflicted me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates … This is needed reading.”