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Common Reading 2019: Ta-Nehisi Coates

"Notes from the Fifth Year"

It did not occur to me that writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one’s roots or expertise or even one’s mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience.” 

—Ta-Nehisi Coates


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American best-selling author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. He has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time and has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, and O among other publications. Some of his books include The Beautiful Struggle, We Were Eight Years in Power, and Between The World And Me. He also received a MacArthur Fellowship and is the current author of the Marvel comics The Black Panther and Captain America. He currently lives with his wife and son in Brooklyn, New York.


1. Research different protests throughout history by activists and make a case for the one you think was the most impactful/successful. 


2. Choose a personal story from your life and translate it in a way that makes it acceptable/understandable for a different audience (ex. A way your grandmother would understand; a way you present it at a keynote address to high school grads) 

Discussion Questions

1. It is not difficult to see the author’s political views displayed throughout this text. How can this still be applied if you agree with the opposite party?

2. How does Coates describing his opinions through a story help get his ideas across?

3. “What does the story you tell matter, if the world is set upon hearing a different one?” (Last line of the piece) 

4. In what ways do you modify or interpret your story for your audience? 


Apryl Williams is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Susquehanna University. She received her BA in American Studies, as well as her Ph.D. in Sociology, Specialization in Race, Media, & Culture from Texas A&M University. Her dissertation was on Theorizing Black Community Online: Of Black Mind, Self, and Society and her research interests include Technology, Digital Media, Race, Immigration, Community, Televised Media, Global Media, Social Theory, Collective Behavior, Embodiment, and Digital Inequality.

Introduction by Apryl Williams