I was really taken aback by the praise and appreciation in this article. Writing is not like performing. There's no one else there with you. I type into a box, and if I am lucky, some number of people--most of whom I will never meet--read it. I hope they like what they see. But for the most part, I'll never know, so I don't much think about it. But when prominent praise does come, it is nice and it does feels good to be acknowledged
I think though, in deference to my community, I should expand on something in the piece:
At 37, Mr. Coates is the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States. His Atlantic essays, guest columns for The New York Times and blog posts are defined by a distinct blend of eloquence, authenticity and nuance. And he has been picking up fans in very high places.
Again, this is very nice and I'm a little embarrassed by it. But I recoil at the idea of being called "the single best writer on the subject of race." Despite what I wrote yesterday, I don't recoil because of the "subject" part. My approach is never "subject." But after I've finished, the writing no longer really belongs to me. If you see it as "on the subject of race," I don't really have the right to tell you that you're wrong.
But I think that anytime you see "best" anyone on "race," you should do a double-take. Very few black writers enjoy the kind of support that I have enjoyed at The Atlantic. And very few writers--of any race--who are trying to engage this ancient divide have enjoyed the support I have here. My circumstance may well be singular. My achievements are not.
This is not false modesty. I think I am fine writer. And when I am done I hope they put the sword on my chest and send me off to Valhalla. (Mad mixed metaphors and mythology. Work with me here.) But I came up reading people do this thing in all kinds of wondrous ways. If you like what you see here. If you think it's the best writing "on the subject of race," I would encourage you read more "on the subject of race," and particularly read more black writers period
I hope this doesn't come off as disrespect or even chiding for Jordan Michael Smith. He was the consumate professional. Just consider this a footnote.
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power