Ta-Nehisi Coates Tackles Freedom and Enslavement in His Latest Book

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Nov 04, 2019

Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the recently published novel “The Water Dancer,” spoke with the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday (November 3) about freedom, storytelling and researching Black history. Read these must-read excepts from the interview with the National Book Award-winning author, then head over to AJC for the full article.

On the practice of enslaving one’s own family members:

I’ve always been interested in the intimacy, for lack of a better term, that was such a feature of enslavement and antebellum slavery. Often, the people who labored in the fields or in the house were literally blood relatives of the people that owned them. There was the centrality of rape and sexual assault in the era of enslavement. Last I looked, on average, any individual African American will have around 20 percent of DNA that comes out of Europe. That’s not a mistake. That’s a holdover of what happened to us.

On not being visually explicit about the horrors of slavery:

I felt like it was really important to take on some tough material that I’m not making into a spectacle because we have those images in our minds already. We know what happened on the plantation with Black women. There’s no need to go on for 10 pages about it. What I was most interested in was not the visceral horrors, but the very real pain of emotional horrors. The separation from the children. To me, that was truly the horrific thing. I didn’t want it to be slavery porn. There’s no need for that. 

On not needing White men to save the day:

But what I thought was most important was not to have these White saviors. You had them doing important things, but they couldn’t be the protagonist. If there was a savior, it was Harriet Tubman.