Ta-Nehisi Coates on Writing as an Act of Self-Interrogation



Ta-Nehisi Coates. Via: (Wikimedia Commons)


The motivation of why people write is always appealing to me. Some people write for the pleasure of it. Others write because they need to preserve their experience in a form of structured and understandable sentences. There are also people who write in order to discover their thoughts or one wise man believes that writing everyday has helped him to notice things that people can’t even notice.

For Ta-Nehisi Coates, a prolific essayist and national correspondent for the Atlantic, he credits his grandmother who taught him to write, not as a way to assemble words into clear and comprehensible sentences and paragraphs, but as an act of self-interrogation. He shares what his grandmother taught him about writing in his book of essays titled “Between the World and Me.”

Dedicating the book for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

“Your grandmother taught me to read when I was only four. She also taught me to write, by which I mean not simply organizing a set of sentences into a series of paragraphs, but organizing them as a means of investigation. When I was in trouble at school (which was quite often) she would make me write about it. The writing had to answer a series of questions:  Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teachers? Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect? How would I want someone to behave while I was talking? What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson? I have given you these same assignments. I gave them to you not because I thought they would curb your behavior–they certainly did not curb mine–but because these were the earliest acts of interrogation, of drawing myself into consciousness. Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing–myself.”

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