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The Beautiful Struggle
Cover of The Beautiful Struggle
The Beautiful Struggle
A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
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An exceptional father-son story from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.Paul...
An exceptional father-son story from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.Paul...
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  • An exceptional father-son story from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.
    Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.
    Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father's steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.
    With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father's generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.
    Praise for The Beautiful Struggle
    "I grew up in a Maryland that lay years, miles and worlds away from the one whose summers and sorrows Ta-Nehisi Coates evokes in this memoir with such tenderness and science; and the greatest proof of the power of this work is the way that, reading it, I felt that time, distance and barriers of race and class meant nothing. That in telling his story he was telling my own story, for me.—Michael Chabon, bestselling author of The Yiddish Policemen' s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
    "Ta-Nehisi Coates is the young James Joyce of the hip hop generation."—Walter Mosley

Excerpts-

  • Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1


    There lived a little boy
    who was misled . . .


    When they caught us down on Charles Street, they were all that I'd heard. They did not wave banners, flash amulets or secret signs. Still, I could feel their awful name advancing out of the lore. They were remarkable. They sported the Stetsons of Hollis, but with no gold. They were shadow and rangy, like they could three-piece you—jab, uppercut, jab—from a block away. They had no eyes. They shrieked and jeered, urged themselves on, danced wildly, chanted Rock and Roll is here to stay. When Murphy Homes closed in on us, the moon ducked behind its black cloak and Fell's Point dilettantes shuffled in boots.

    It was their numbers that tipped me off—no one else rolled this deep. We were surrounded by six to eight, but up and down the street, packs of them took up different corners. I was spaced-out as usual, lost in the Caves of Chaos and the magic of Optimus Prime's vanishing trailer. It took time for me to get clear. Big Bill made them a block away, grew tense, but I did not understand, even after they touched my older brother with a right cross so awkward I thought it was a greeting.

    I didn't catch on till his arms were pumping the wind. Bill was out. Murphy Homes turned to me.

    In those days, Baltimore was factional, segmented into crews who took their names from their local civic associations. Walbrook Junction ran everything, until they met North and Pulaski, who, craven and honorless, would punk you right in front your girl.

    Above them all, Murphy Homes waved the scepter. The scale of their banditry made them mythical. Wherever they walked—Old Town, Shake and Bake, the harbor—they busted knees and melted faces. Across the land, the name rang out: Murphy Homes beat niggers with gas nozzles. Murphy Homes split backs and poured in salt. Murphy Homes moved with one eye, flew out on bat wings, performed dark rites atop Druid Hill.

    I tried to follow Bill, but they cut me off. A goblin stepped out from the pack—

    Fuck, you going, bitch?

    —and stunned me with a straight right. About that time my Converse turned to cleats and I bolted, leaving dents and divots in the concrete. The streetlights flickered, waved as I broke ankles, blew by, and when the bandits reached to check me, I left only imagination and air. I doubled back to Lexington Market. There was no sign of Bill. I reached for a pay phone.

    Dad, we got banked.

    Okay, Son, find an adult. Stand next to an adult.

    I'm in front of Lexington Market. I lost Bill.

    Son, I'm on the way.

    I had crossed a border. This was more than Dad's black leather belt—I knew how that would end. But word to Tucker's Kobolds, this thing filing out across the way, lost boys with a stake in only each other, stretching down the block in packs, berserking everywhere, was awful and random. I stood near a man about Dad's age waiting at a bus stop, like age could shield me. He looked over at me unfazed and then back across the streets at the growing fray of frenzied youth.

    ***

    We'd come out that night in search of the wrestlers, who were our latest sensation. They elevated bar fights to a martial art, would rush the ring, all juiced on jeers and applause, white music blaring, Van Halen hair waving in the wind, and raise their chins until their egos were eye level with God. Moves were invented, named, patented, and feared—heaven help Bob Backlund in the camel clutch—and we loved that, too, the stew of language that gave a beat down style and grace, that made an eye gouge a ritual.

    You could find us,...

About the Author-

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His book Between the World and Me won the National Book Award in 2015. Coates is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in New York City with his wife and son.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 28, 2008
    West Baltimore, where Coates, a former Village Voice and Time staff writer, spent his formative years, was an environment ravished by crack and beset with deadbeat fathers. But his own father (and his mother, to whom he dedicates the book) fought hard to keep him and his half-brother, Bill, from succumbing to the destiny awaiting many of their peers. Their father, Paul Coates, found his own purpose as a young man in the Black Panther movement, only to become disillusioned by the internal politics, but he never lost the foundational beliefs he found there. From this basis, he instills in his sons a pride in their cultural inheritance which, as they mature, plays a significant role in their developing sense of self and is credited in part with keeping them from surrendering to the streets. Though the bookish Coates and his street-wise half-brother travel different paths toward manhood, they find freedom in the lessons of their father. Ultimately, Coates brings the struggle of the streets to the page in language, verging on poetic, that is brutal in its honesty.

  • Library Journal

    May 5, 2008
    West Baltimore, where Coates, a former Village Voice and Time staff writer, spent his formative years, was an environment ravished by crack and beset with deadbeat fathers. But his own father (and his mother, to whom he dedicates the book) fought hard to keep him and his half-brother, Bill, from succumbing to the destiny awaiting many of their peers. Their father, Paul Coates, found his own purpose as a young man in the Black Panther movement, only to become disillusioned by the internal politics, but he never lost the foundational beliefs he found there. From this basis, he instills in his sons a pride in their cultural inheritance which, as they mature, plays a significant role in their developing sense of self and is credited in part with keeping them from surrendering to the streets. Though the bookish Coates and his street-wise half-brother travel different paths toward manhood, they find freedom in the lessons of their father. Ultimately, Coates brings the struggle of the streets to the page in language, verging on poetic, that is brutal in its honesty.

    Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from April 15, 2008
    Coates grew up in a tough Baltimore neighborhood, subject to the same temptationsas other young black boys. But he had a father in the household, a man steeped in race consciousness and willing to go to any lengthsincluding beatingsto keep his sons on the right path. With sharp cultural observations and emotional depth, Coates recalls an adolescence of surreptitiously standing on corners eying girls, drinking fifths, and earning reps, mindful of his fathers admonition about the Knowledge. Central to the Knowledge was the need to confront fears and bullies and beat them in order to live in peace. For a while, his own style was to talk and duck; later he found places to be himself in African drumming and writing. The Knowledge focused on alternative paths for race-conscious black men, respectful of the broader culture, but always a bit on the margins. His father had balanced his own life between square jobs and a black book publishing enterprise. As Coates grew up, he replaced his comic books with his fathers collection of classic literature on the race struggle and found his own way. A beautifully written, loving portrait of a strong father bringing his sons to manhood.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)

  • Natalie Y. Moore, author Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation "A beautiful journey. A voice rich in detail, Coates is lyrical and clever. As he navigates through a slice of urban American, we root for him as he fumbles and finds purpose. This debut establishes Coates are one of the most luminous storytellers of his generation."

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A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
Ta-Nehisi Coates
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