Ta-Nehisi Coates Comes to Portland to Speak About His Debut Novel The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates and local author Renée Watson captivated an audience of over 2,000 people Monday night, October 21, in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The evening began with a wild round of applause, followed by a moving reading by Coates. Coates and Watson spoke about slavery in the past, and how that has shaped current black culture. Coates explained the focus in his novel The Water Dancer: “I choose to focus on not what has been done to black people but what black people were thinking and feeling.” This emphasis creates an intense, real book that reaches the reader. As Coates stated: “I want to disturb people.”

Students and teachers from numerous Portland Public Schools attended this talk. Julie Palmer, Franklin High School’s Community Coordinator and staff advisor of the Black Student Union (BSU) explains the importance of this event for her students: “We have as part of our goal for BSU, but also for the larger community, that we want to highlight and share black excellence.” Seeing Ta-Nehisi Coates on stage creating positive change through his words can inspire black students to strive for more. Palmer articulated: “All human beings benefit from being able to see positive reflections of themselves, it’s a way of seeing possibility.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates was born and raised in Baltimore, New York. He has worked as a journalist for top newspapers such as The Atlantic and The New York Times. Through his writing he discusses culture and race, striving to enlighten and awaken the public. He has four published books, two of which are New York Times Best Sellers. Recently, Coates undertook the writing of the Black Panther Marvel comics. He is an author and leader of thought that people look up to from all different backgrounds.

Isabel Duemling (9), a Franklin student, shares the impact the event had on her: “Because I am white I am not always well versed in racial issues, but getting to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates and Renée Watson discuss it in such an open way was moving.” Duemling was one of hundreds of students who were moved by his words. Through his literature Ta-Nehisi Coates is leading us all to a place of understanding and unity.

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