Baltimore reporter wins genius grant


You may refer to journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates as “Genius Coates” or “Sir Genius or, as Coates tweeted: “He who holds knowledge of all things in all realms at all times.

Obviously, Coates likes to have a little fun, and deservedly so.

The Baltimore native, who works as a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of the bestselling book, “Between the World and Me,” has been awarded the prestigious genius grant by the MacArthur Foundation, one of the nation’s largest independent foundations that supports creative individuals and effective institutions that are committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world.

The foundation also works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security and to make cities better places and understand how technology is affecting children and society.

Coates is the only journalist among this year’s class of 24 MacArthur Fellows.

Foundation officials praised Coates as a “highly-distinctive voice” who is “emerging as a leading interpreter of American concerns to a new generation of media-savvy audiences and having a profound impact on the discussion of race and racism in this country.”

“I’m delighted that the MacArthur Foundation has reached the same conclusion about Ta-Nehisi Coates that his colleagues and readers at The Atlantic have held for many years,” said James Bennet, The Atlantic’s co-president and editor in chief. “His genius is a rare combination of brilliance and singular vision joined to fearless intellectual honesty and boundless curiosity about what the rest of the world thinks, and why.”

Further, officials at the foundation said in a statement that Coates “brings personal reflection and historical scholarship to bear on America’s 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. He subtly embeds the present—in the form of anecdotes about himself or others—into historical analysis in order to illustrate how the implications of the past are still experienced by people today.”

The fellowships come with a stipend of $625,000 over five years with no strings attached. Cecilia A. Conrad, the foundation’s managing director, said they take the no strings attached seriously and winners don’t have to report to them or account for how the funds are used.

A Howard University graduate, Coates’ articles have appeared in such publications like the Village Voice, the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine and the New Yorker.

He was a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 and a journalist-in-residence at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism in 2014.

In a series of blog posts about the Civil War and a long-form print essay on “The Case for Reparations,” Coates grapples with the rationalizations for slavery and their persistence in twentieth-century policies like Jim Crow and redlining, the practice of denying loans and other financial services to African Americans.

In “Reparations” Coates compellingly argues for remuneration for the economic impact on African-Americans denied the ability to accumulate wealth or social status for generations. At once deeply felt and intensely researched, the essay prompted a national conversation.

“I wished I could be cool,” Coates told the New York Times about being contacted at his home in Paris about the honor. “But, you just can’t be cool.”

What he does remain, however, is light-hearted, taking it all in stride as he told a colleague at The Atlantic.

“Unbearably insufferable. And I now have an excuse— I am a genius, after all,” he said, playfully. “Thus my insufferableness is a blessing.”