There’s a duality inherent in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s career. He’s a journalist, but rather than seek out a pretense of objectivity, his most famous work has been his deeply personal, passionate arguments on issues surrounding race in America. He is perhaps the leading public intellectual in the country, but he splits his time writing a monthly Marvel superhero comic. And while he is on the verge of accomplishing everything any writer could want in their career — publishing books of essays, writing fiction and Black Panther comics, being attached to television projects with The Wire’s David Simon and film projects with Creed and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler — he’s not sure he’s ready for it all.
“You have to be very careful, and make sure that you’re interrogating yourself over why you’re doing what, because you better not take all of them,” Coates says. “It’s important to not take things just because they’re being offered.”
“For me, being good is extremely important, and the way you get good is to focus on a particular thing…”
Coates started his career with the Washington City Paper, then continued freelancing with Time, Village Voice, and Philadelphia Weekly. He began writing for The Atlantic in 2008, and found a home there as a blogger and senior editor. His work there has continually been challenging, thoughtful, progressive stuff that deals with race.