Coates’s eloquent polemics on the black experience in America brought him fame and the admiration of Barack Obama. Here he talks about the rise of white supremacy – and why Trump was a logical conclusion
Ta-Nehisi Coates is short on sleep. He did five interviews yesterday to promote his new book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. Today there was another at 7am, then surgery “to get a little thing removed” from his neck. As his tall frame appears in the doorway of an office at his New York publisher, a bandage is visible above the collar of his blue suit jacket.
Coates is friendly but fatigued and yawns several times during the course of our conversation. Some questions animate him and he digs deep with evident passion; others elicit a brief “I don’t know”. The interview doesn’t always flow. But even on an off-day, Coates, 42, is more compelling than almost any other public voice about the state we’re in. The New York Times described him as “the pre-eminent black public intellectual of his generation”. The novelist Toni Morrison compared him to James Baldwin. He emerged as the equivalent of poet laureate during Barack Obama’s presidency, chronicling the spirit of the age. If anything, the advent of Trump has pushed his stock higher. Coates admits it is “tremendously irritating” to be in constant demand by the media, as if he is sole spokesman for African American affairs.