Ta-Nehisi Coates Speaks at the Wharton Center

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On April 3, nationally renowned writer Ta-Nehisi Coates will be speaking at the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. His appearance is part of the World View Lecture Series, a program that hosts talks by prominent writers and public figures at MSU. The event has been sponsored by several colleges and organizations within the university and will feature a lecture by Coates as well as a moderated audience Q&A session.

Coates’ appearance is a significant event for MSU. John Waller, a professor in the College of Social Science, led the push to have Coates come to MSU after reading his work in The Atlantic. “I’d realized what a major figure he was, and thought he’d be a fine person to come to campus,” Waller said. “[The College of Social Science] realized that this was going to have to be a big university event, but a lot of colleges were keen to help sponsor it because they recognized Coates’ significance.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an eminent journalist and author who has achieved increasing recognition over the past few years. His widely-read cover stories for The Atlantic, such as “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” “The Case for Reparations” and “My President Was Black,” have played an important role in advancing national dialogue on racial and sociopolitical issues. His latest book, Between the World and Me, was a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the National Book Award. Coates is also a recipient of the prestigious “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Due to his towering stature, it took special convincing to get Coates to talk at MSU. “There was initial resistance because he was really backing off from public speaking,” said Jennifer Arbogast, an academic specialist in the College of Social Science. “He was overwhelmed with all the attention he’s been getting. But it’s the perfect fit, it makes sense for him to be here.”

In their booking proposal, Waller and other faculty and staff members made sure to emphasize MSU’s devotion to civil rights and social conversation. “We let him know about our 60/50 Project. We made sure he knew that MSU has a strong commitment to African-American history and that it has a number of really active student groups, such as the Black Student Alliance and the Neighborhood Black Caucuses,” said Bryan Jao, former director of programming for the Wharton Center. “There was also Lansing’s rich African-American history as well as our proximity to Detroit and Flint.”

Efforts have paid off. Coates’ stop at MSU is among his few engagements for the year, and the lecture is entirely sold-out. Jao predicts that the talk will be frank and enlightening, even though the specific topics are unknown as of yet. “[Coates] doesn’t want to spoil what he’s going to be talking about, but he’s certainly known for not being shy about his topics,” Jao said. “He’s going to be very open. We can expect to hear, during his lecture, exactly what he’s known for.”

Due to the enthusiasm among faculty, staff and students, Waller and his colleagues have been arranging supplemental events to ensure Coates’ impact continues to be felt in the area. After the lecture, they plan on holding discussions of Coates’ work at local libraries and hosting a comic book panel about his Black Panther series.

“We’d like to do more followups so it’s not just an event,” Arbogast said. “We really want it to become more of a conversation that lasts.”

For more information on the speaking engagement, visit https://www.whartoncenter.com/events/detail/ta-nehisi-coates.


Nitish Pahwa is a senior majoring in professional writing with a concentration in editing and publishing. He is passionate about the arts and has written about music and culture for various websites and publications. He owns way too many books and CDs, but somehow it’s never enough. Follow him on Twitter @pahwa_nitish.


Tags: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Wharton Center