We Were Eight Years in Power
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Contributed by Andrea Barraza

Historical Context

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, is a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates published by One World in 2017. The book is a collection of eight enthralling essays for each of the eight years of Barack Obama’s era as the president of the United States, from 2008 to 2016, originating from The Atlantic magazine. Some of the famous essays in the book include The Case for Reparations and The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration which debuted his career (Iii 3). The last four essays, including My President is Black and Fear of a Black President, were among Coates’ most celebrated works as they remind the magnitude of their loss and at the same time made many to be grateful for Obama’s presidency. Each of the eight essays is introduced with Ta-Nehisi’s reflections on his life with regards to the love, anger, self-care, and joy he got each year as he prompts his readers to read more that has been written in the book. Coates’ greatest ambition is honesty and fearlessness, and he focuses on these qualities repeatedly in his writing.

The book was a success as it listed in Times magazine 2017 among the top-selling fiction books. The author credits the election of the first black president in the history of the United States of America, as it led to his success and that of other black authors and intellectuals in America (Rambsy II 197). In his writing, Ta-Nehisi Coates provides notes on the activities behind each essay and also offers an analysis of his success and failures. Each of the book’s eight essays gives an analysis of black suffering and white supremacy as he suggests that, even though Obama succeeded in many things during his rule, he would never satisfy white people and this is the reason why he is keen to point out many success stories of the Obama rule.

Author’s Biography

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American journalist, author, educator and comic books, writer. He was born on 30th September 1975 in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the son of William Paul Coates who was a Vietnam War Veteran, a former Black Panther party member, a librarian as well as a publisher while his mother Cheryl Lynn was a teacher. Coates attended several schools in Baltimore which include William Lemmel Middle School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He, later on, joined Woodlawn High School (Coates 7). After graduating from high school, Coates attended Howard and left to pursue a career in journalism after five years. He happens to be the only child in his family. He does not have any college degree. However, it is known that in 2014, he attended Middlebury College and completed an intensive French program as he prepared for a writing fellowship in Paris. Ta-Nehisi Coates got his first journalism job as a reporter at The Washington City Paper with David Car as his editor.

Between 2000 and 2007, Coates served as a journalist in different publications such as The Village Voice, Philadelphia Weekly and Time. His first piece of writing for The Atlantic American magazine named This Is How We Lost to the Whiteman was well received and introduced him to a successful and more stable career (Warren 198). The article made him get an appointment with the regular column of The Atlanta magazine which was popular, influential and had a high level of community commitment. Coates rose to a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine where he wrote several articles and also maintaining his blog. His blog addressed topics that mainly focused on race, history, politics, sports, music, and culture. Coates once worked for The New York Times as a guest columnist after turning down their offer to become a regular columnist. He has also written several columns for The O magazine and The Washington Monthly.

Apart from We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates has also written several other books, such as The Beautiful Struggle, Between the World and Me as well as a comic series known as Black Panther. He has served as a visiting professor for writing from 2012 to 2014 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In late 2014, Coates also worked at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism as journalist-in-residence (Warren 199).

Coates married his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, whom he met at Howard University. The two have a son, Samori Maceo, who is named after the Mande chief Samori Ture. Coates moved from Brooklyn to Lefferts Garden together with his wife Kenyatta and son Samori in 2001. In 2018, Coates started working on various projects. One of the famous projects that he has worked for is, “America in the King,” which is a television project about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Since the onset of his career, he has had exemplary achievements, publishing several books and columns in several renowned magazines such as The Atlantic.

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