Lindsay Johns

Escape from the hood

Ta-Nehisi Coates — a name we should all be getting to know — describes escaping the black ghetto for university life in an inspiring memoir, The Beautiful Struggle

The author of the bestseller Between the World and Me and recipient of a MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ last year, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a much-lauded African-American journalist on the Atlantic, best know for his trenchant 2014 essay making the case for reparations for black Americans.

A bona fide heir to the mantle of ‘hip-hop intellectual’ (last claimed with any credibility by Michael Eric Dyson), Coates is a rara avis, able to move with ease between Rakim, Q-Tip, W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.

The Beautiful Struggle, written in 2008 but only now published in the UK, is a memoir of the writer’s perilous journey from boyhood to manhood in inner-city Baltimore in the late 1980s and early 1990s — when it was ravaged by crack cocaine and gang warfare. As he navigates the maelstroms of adolescence, Coates’s journey takes him from socially gauche teenager surrounded by B-boys with hoop dreams to unexpected academic high-achiever.

At its core, The Beautiful Struggle is a moving story of education for liberation and the search for anchorage and self-knowledge in a hostile, unforgiving world — one in which the odds are still heinously stacked against young men of colour.

It is also a heartfelt and poignantly beautiful ode to his father — a Vietnam vet, former Black Panther revolutionary, autodidact, printer of arcane black tracts, old-school disciplinarian and paterfamilias (with seven children from four different women) who haunts every page of this beguiling memoir. His father is a towering and saintly presence: a lone male parent in a sea of absent dads, and an ardent bibliophile striving to impart Afrocentric knowledge and values to his son.

Empowering, perceptive and often witty, The Beautiful Struggle is also a gilded encomium to the power of books and the freedom self-knowledge can bring.

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