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I was writing by the time I left high school and I bought that writing with me to Howard. Most of it was pretty awful Black Power\Strong Black Woman\Black Love\Kill Whitey "poetry." But the writing plugged me into Washington's writer scene and older writers who were kind enough to tell me that I was writing crap and should try talking about what I knew.  

I was 17 the first time someone told me that (Shout out DJ Renegade.) As it happened I didn't really know much at all. I used to lay up in my dorm room trembling with frustration. The worst part about being a young writer was realizing how very much I didn't know and having to try to write nonetheless. I spent my early twenties running on fumes, and I'm always amazed that some gifted people actually write books during this period.

But just in spending social circle of D.C.'s writer scene, I learned a lot. All of them were older than me and I learned from hearing them talk about writing as I did from hearing them talk about the random business of life. Like music. Like War. The best thing about those years was expansion of my artistic landscape. I simply had no idea that anyone--and certainly not anyone who looked like me--were doing it like this.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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