Conversating at MIT


Tomorrow I'll be up at MIT, not discussing IQ, but doing this:

Coates will read from his first novel, set before, during and after the Civil War, told through a series of voices those of slaves and former slaves, of slave owners, and more. From there, he will speak about how creating those voices led him to think about the idea of the writer's voice and what it takes to create stories that are not just read, but remembered.

The talk is entitled "The Street Just Out Of Sight" and it's taken from this portion of Terrance Hayes's much celebrated poem "Lighthead's Guide To The Galaxy":

I know all words come from preexisting words 
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves. 
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say 
about the way we live. I'd rather have what my daddy calls 
"skrimp." He says "discrete" and means the street 
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive: 
that's poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement 
of derangements; I'll eat you to live: that's poetry. 
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman. 
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom's soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife, 
sometimes I taste her caution...

If you follow my obsession with George Eliot's language the invocation of "greedy of clutch," my thing for Jane Awesome and her observation that "with a book, he was regardless of time," or Doctorow or Carolyn Forche or basically anyone I've written about here in the past few years, you will notice an obsession with "Not what you see, but what you perceive."

I was out in Pittsburgh recently and got to hang with Terrance and his brilliant wife Yona. The three of us go back aways--to Howard, D.C. and discomfiting workshops with Yusef Komunyakaa. I think I've mentioned that my career as an aspiring writer began with MCing and the proceeding to poetry. You might even argue that it includes the djimbe. All of these things are sort of the same thing. 

I was telling Yona and Terrance why I gave up poetry--I basically came to feel that it required a level of talent that I didn't have. But they were insistent that I had not. I understand that better now.I have natural affection not for "what you see, but "what you perceive," in "the street out of sight." 

Delving into fiction, my hope is to explore that impulse through voices of slaves and slaveholders. I'll basically be reading my experiments, my explorations tomorrow. 
Jump to comments

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. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more


Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.


What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world



From This Author