The Future of the Written Word

Ta-Nehisi Coates: I don’t think so. I think writing is always been challenging to make a career as a writer. I’m not convinced that it’s harder today than it was a hundred years ago. I’m certainly not convinced, as a black person, it was harder today than it was 50 years ago.

I’ve been going back through all the old archives out of New York. No black people writing. None. I’m not… I’m not trying to dish The New Yorker. You go back to The Atlantic, I see very few black people writing for The Atlantic. It is certainly not harder. And that’s such a huge part of my identity as an African-American.

My dad was a high school dropout who went off into the war. My mom grew up in the projects in West Baltimore. It’s very difficult for me to bemoan how hard it is for writers. It’s a very difficult thing.

I think, maybe the number of people who can do it will shrink so it maybe harder to do. I’m not totally sure that it’s a bad thing. I think writing should be hard. I think the only people who probably, at the end of the day, should be writing; maybe this is an overstatement, I don’t know. But I think, at the end of the day, the people who I want to read are the people who would be socially dysfunctional if they weren’t writing. I want to read people who need to write. When I go to see a film, I want to read somebody that needs to make movies. I want people who write like their life is dependent on it.

People who are halfway doing it should go walk on Wall Street or whatever. You should not be a sell out at writing. It doesn’t pay enough. And the work is too hard. And I’ve been in charge whether people will like it. Those people need another career, you know. It’s like being a sell out is being a teacher. Why? Why would you sell out and go teach? Go ruin kids lives? That’s what you’re going to?

So why sell out and be a writer? So I waste my life reading through your pad, awful halfway done stuff. No, no, no. It should be hard. It should be hard. The wages should be tough. And if you stick with it; it’s an endurance war, how bad do you want it?

I’m mostly a writer because I can’t do anything else. I don’t have any other skills. I mean, it’s all I ever wanted. And I’ve only been good at things that I really, really wanted in my life. I think that’s a good thing. I actually do.


Question: Thoughts on Twitter?


Ta-Nehisi Coates: I don’t Twitter. I don’t Twitter. I have nothing against Twitter. I need more space when I’m disconnected from the world. I don’t need to be more connected, virtually. I need to be more connected with regular people. I need to be less connected virtually. I’m not a luddite. Obviously, I’m a blogger so I’m not completely against it.

I need as much time as possible, disconnected.

I hate traveling because I miss my family terribly. One of the great things about traveling though is the complete sort of disconnect while you’re on a plane. That’s a great thing. I need more of that.


Recorded on: March 19, 2009


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