The Struggle Was Epic

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I did an interview with the Rumpus. My awesome interlocutor was none other than our own Brian Spears. Here is my manifesto:


My first book, The Beautiful Struggle, leaned heavily on voice, as opposed to narrative. I like that book a lot, but very little actually happens in the book. Indeed, plot was beside the point, in terms of my reasons for writing. What I hoped to do was create a work wherein the voice-the allusions, the rhythm, the entire style-summoned up the era of my youth. I wanted to explain the times and characters through the language proper. It's an approach that I really picked up from hip-hop-the very deployment of the street vernacular summons up the streets. I wanted to summon up X-Factor, Dungeons & Dragons, the black pantheon, and the music of my youth, hip-hop, all at once. It didn't work perfectly, but it was a good attempt. 

My first book was memoir, but this one is fiction. It deploys that same hip-hop approach-trying to summon up the past through the vernacular and cadence of the era. Calling it hip-hop is probably too much. I read Faulkner in the same way. As I Lay Dying takes you to a place through the voices of its characters, through there style of speech. So when Tull says...

It's a hard life on women, for a fact. Some women. I mind my mammy lived to be seventy and more. Worked every day, rain or shine; never a sick day since her last chap was born until one day she kind of looked around her and then she went and taken that lace-trimmed gown she had forty-five years and never wore out of the chest and put it on and laid down on the bed and pulled the covers up and shut her eyes. "You will all have to look out for your pa the best you can," she said, "I'm tired." 

...I feel as though his way of speaking has told me something about him, maybe something I can't even name. It's very similar to Nas running from a shoot-out: 

So now I'm jetting to the building lobby
And it was filled with children probably
couldn't see as I high as I be
It's like the game at the same.
Got younger niggers, pulling triggers,
adding fame to their name and claim,
some corners. Crews without guns is goners
In broad daylight, stick-up kids they run up on us.


There's more action in that verse, but the fact that this is a 19-year old kid complaining that he's too old for the world of drug-dealing tells me something about him and where he is.

With that approach in mind, my aim is to answer a simple question-How might it have felt to be a Southerner before/during/immediately after the Civil War? My way of answering that question is through the language of the time, is through attempting to hear the voices, and phrasing of that period and pull something out of it that will allow me to understand that world. As it stands, the story is about an interracial family in Virginia. It's told from the perspective of four different voices in that family. I don't know if it will make a very good novel. But I'm confident it will answer my questions about the times.

And that's all.

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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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