Between the World and Me: A Conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates at CAAM

On October 30, 2015, the California African American Museum hosted a book signing with Ta-Nehisi Coates, made possible by Eso Won Books. The atmosphere was electric, as attendees waited eagerly to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates share his insight and wisdom.

As a journalist and memoirist, Ta-Nehisi Coates brings personal reflection and historical scholarship to bear on America’s most contested issues. Writing without shallow polemic and in a measured style, Coates addresses complex and challenging issues, such as racial identity, systemic racial bias, and urban policing. In a seamless balance, he intertwines the present with historical analysis in order to illustrate how the implications of the past are still affecting people today.

Ta-Nehisi’s work recently granted him the MacArthur Genius Award and his latest book, Between the World and Me, is a New York Times Bestseller. Needless to say, the Los Angeles community came out in in full force to see the man of the hour in action and to revel in the ambiance of CAAM's draping exhibits and positive vibes.

During his talk, Ta-Nehisi raised some very thought-provoking ideas, of which were his embellishments on the concepts of race in America. He also expressed a disdain for being labeled the “Voice of Black America,” and outlined the irony of feeling American for the first time in Paris, France.

In Between the World And Me, Coates repeatedly stressed the significance of Howard University––which he refers to as The Mecca. He beautifully describes it as the bedrock of the Black experience where he saw the breadth and depth of the Black experience. These sentiments were ever present in his talk at CAAM, as he discussed the influence of his father, Paul Coates, and the importance of Black institutions. Ta-Nehisi explained that had it not been for his father’s publishing house, his wouldn’t have had the foundation that eventually led to his historic career as a writer. “Black institutions are very important for us,” said Ta-Nehisi Coates. Those words reverberated as it parallels the very direction in which CAAM is headed.

The California African American Museum, a cultural landmark, is currently on the rise, as it seeks to reimagine ways to serve the Black community. Recently, CAAM and the State Board of Directors appointed a new Executive DIrector, George Davis. As the museum navigates this transition, events like these are great for engaging new audiences. Hours before the event started, people started lining up to gain entrance into the museum. I spoke to a few people as they waited outside.

Tyler and Shanel Perry, a young couple from Orange County, said that they had been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates for several years and made plans to attend as soon as they heard about it. When asked about the importance of CAAM to the community, Tyler stated that, “the location of CAAM is very important. I didn’t know this, but more than half of those who founded Los Angeles were of African descent. There’s this deep history that all people should be aware of.”

Caroline Vera, a graduate student at UCLA, first learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates via social media. After reading Between The World and Me,she believed that his voice was important to larger discussions of race. When asked about why CAAM is so important to the South Los Angeles community she asserted that, “We need our youth up in here!”


With new leadership and a renewed commitment to the youth, CAAM is in prime position for growth and expansion. With events like the Ta-Nehisi Coates book signing and discussion, CAAM is sure to attract a range of people from across Los Angeles to experience all of the enriching exhibits that it has to offer.

For more photos of the event, see the gallery below..

All photos taken by Makiah Green and Tyree Boyd-Pates.