Reporter's Notebook

Remembering the Horde
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A collection of memories from members of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s old commenting community, which was profiled by Eva Holland in “‘It’s Yours’: A Short History of the Horde.”

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‘I Miss Blogging, Terribly’

(Editor’s note: These questions from Atlantic readers—in bold—and replies from Ta-Nehisi were compiled from an “Ask Me Anything” he did with the TAD group on 1/12. In the podcast above, starting at the 114:30 mark, Ta-Nehisi speaks at length about the bygone era of blogging and his writing today. Money quote: “Blogging was real-time, ongoing learning process. That went away. … I didn’t write too much [during the 2016 election] because I didn’t want to take this oracular role. There was no space to try to figure it out. There was no space to think about it.”)

I have been dying to ask about the new book. Is it by any chance the historical fiction one you’d started oh so long ago? I always thought you had captured some lightning with that one.

Hi Sandy. Yes. Signed a two book deal. First, is essays. Second is that historical fiction.

You tweeted earlier this year that you’re focused on book-writing. How much has your process changed as you’ve gotten more attention and a wider audience? How different is your day-to-day process now from the days of The Atlantic blogging and the original Horde?

Changed a lot. More people looking. Probably more than I’m comfortable with. Much less room to think out loud. So, thinking is much more of a private thing these days. The landscape isn’t really set up for the public act of asking questions.

It’s cool though. There was a time when I asked questions privately—before I got to The Atlantic. Basically have to go back to that. Maybe that’s as it should be.

Do you miss blogging? [Atlantic colleague and former Dish editor] Chris B. was lamenting the fall of blogging as a platform for thinking and learning in public and I always found that to be my favorite kind of process to read.

Yes. Terribly.

You seem both surprised and a little discomforted by how much attention you got following BTWAM [Between the World and Me] and, obviously, a lot of it was hostile. I remember reading about your Park Slope house purchase and your comments on the whole response to that. How do you manage that? I'm legit just curious about it as someone who feels, y'know, affection for you from your work but also invested in your work and what it adds to the discourse.

The house was actually in Lefferts-Garden, where I’d rented when my wife, my son and I first moved to New York. Was attached to that neighborhood. Got the house. Neighborhood blog plastered my face up. Realtor talked. And suddenly it wasn’t home anymore. It was performance.

When you know that people know who you are, you are always working—and not the work you want to do. You are sort of performing, because you know they are looking, or at least glancing at you. Would hate to walk out thinking about that.

There is something else: People never stop to think about you as an actual person with a family in these situations. I’ve said this publicly now, so it’s no point hiding it. My wife has long had women’s health issues at the core of her mission, specifically reproductive rights. She’s actually in med-school now, and the plan was always for her to be active on that front. When you want to go into that work, and your address is plastered all of the internet, with pictures and floorpans of your house, well … When I talked about “not feeling safe,” it wasn’t just for me.

After seeing the AMA responses from TNC today, long-time reader Nicole Pezold Hancock writes:

I’m really late in seeing all these notes from Horde members, but years ago, I was the commenter known as Pontchartrain Girl. I joined the Horde in 2009, around the time of the murder of Dr. George Tiller. As a news junkie, I frequented The Atlantic magazine and had even read TNC’s Michelle Obama article [link] but had never noticed the blog.

And then Dr. Tiller was gunned down as he attended church. I spent a few hours in the days after scouring the Internet—not for news, but for comments. I don’t know why reading the violent ravings of people I disagreed with was attractive to me right then. Perhaps I wanted to feel more pain? Or gloat at their misspellings or apparent lunacy? Or maybe I was just spoiling to read a fight.

At any rate, I ended up in TNC’s salon and witnessed a remarkably civil discussion of abortion rights [link]. That’s the only place online or off that I’ve heard all these disparate voices respectfully sharing their thoughts on such an emotional, divisive subject. And that was just my first day lurking there.

Shortly after, TNC hosted a lengthy, ridiculously entertaining debate on mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip and their cultural significance [link]. I was in love. The Horde was smart. The Horde was funny. The Horde was thirsting for truth, whether about how we remember the Civil War or what milk substitutes are healthiest. And their leader was rigorous about facts and the rules of engagement. He demanded as much integrity as the best of professors and I learned better how to say mea culpa—even to a faceless online community (I can’t listen to “I Stand Corrected” by Vampire Weekend without thinking of him).

TNC and the Horde refined and challenged my thinking on so many subjects.

And then things started to fall apart. Others have explained this far better than I can or remember. But I went from being Pontchartrain Girl to being a Pontchartrain mom around the same time that TNC’s stature was growing. I found it dizzying and dissatisfying trying to keep up any conversation or even to follow those of the Horde because it got so crowded. It wasn’t only trolls. There were just too many of us jockeying to speak and be heard all at once. TNC would post an item or the OTAN and almost immediately it’d be mobbed by 300 comments, then 500 comments. And so I quit.