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Ta-Nehisi Coates Talks Obama at Book Launch

Acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates on Monday launched the tour for his latest book in D.C., delivering bite-size teasers of significant events in the journalist’s life, including his not-so-cordial encounters with the Obama administration.

Set at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest, where the famous Black activist Frederick Douglass once gave a sermon, the special event gave Coates a platform to discuss his new work, “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” and the events that make up the book.

“In my book, one of the things I talk about is the first time I met then-President Barack Obama,” Coates said. “I had been writing things about President Obama and some of those things were not kind to say the least. … But that was my job and I stand by it. However, one day I received a phone call from the White House. It was a weird number so I didn’t answer it. So they left a message saying, ‘This is not a prank, this is the White House, could you come down tomorrow and meet with the president?’

“So I went down there and it was me and a bunch of other journalists with assigned seating,” he said. “And I ended up sitting across from Obama. … So I kind of knew what this was, you know — kind of like, ‘say it to my face.’

“So he comes in and I ask some really weak, moist questions and when I’m finished he says, ‘So I saw what you wrote the other day and I gotta say, it was terribly unfair,” Coates said with a laugh. “He then proceeds to just go in on me, but I hated [Obama’s] pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap speeches, you know? … So I left and went home and it was kind of upsetting.”

During the rest of Coates’ monologue, he outlined what transpired after the meeting — and the blunt and controversial words that landed him right back at the White House not long after his first visit, much to the surprise and enjoyment of the audience.

“This book is definitely a must-read,” said D.C. native Julia James. “Coates is so candid with his words and the book serves as not only a tool for prolific amusement, but also a weapon toward racism and the illumination on the belief that understanding and recognizing Black people is central to understanding any part of America.”

The event, sponsored by Sankofa Video and Books and moderated by renowned journalist Kojo Nnamdi, highlighted the overall importance of Black authors.

“I grew up surrounded by Black books, reared by a father who spent much of his adult life either running a bookstore or a publishing company,” Coates said. “I was made, as a writer and as a human, by Black books. Those bookstores that specialize in this literature are sacred. It is, thus, wholly appropriate that I begin my tour with Sankofa.”

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Lauren M. Poteat

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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