I recently received Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as a gift and read it, consumed it, in my room on Christmas Eve.
In the context of police brutality, the systemic destruction of black bodies, and #BlackLivesMatter activism, this book is unquestionably an important and necessary product of our cultural climate. But I bring up Coates’ memoir not to discuss the arguments he makes or the questions he poses (though these are certainly worthy points of discussion); rather, I bring up Coates’ memoir because it shifted the way I look at writing.
Between the World and Me demonstrates that good writing doesn’t act as a shield between Author and World, but rather a magnifying glass. And Coates uses this magnifying glass to lift the facade of his world and expose something raw underneath. He then consciously explores this rawness, weaving a narrative that provokes thought like a philosophical text yet turns pages like a mystery novel.
In a society riddled with conflict, we need this magnifying glass writing— code-switching nonfiction that is equal parts creative and critical, clever and insightful. We need writing that is vulnerable in its self-awareness and jolting in its honesty, that is uncomfortable and painful, careful yet unafraid. We need writing that elicits empathy and shifts public discourse.
I’m fascinated by writers who can connect the smallest, tangible details (like a birthmark or the pavement or candy corn) to larger, intangible societal implications (like genetics or industrialization or consumerism); I’m fascinated by writers who can poetically bridge the schism between micro and macro. Ultimately, creative nonfiction is the form of writing I want to challenge myself to produce, the form of writing I care most deeply about.