What is understood is that over a seven-year span beginning in 2000, Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice and Time consecutively hired Mr. Coates and then promptly released him.
Nobody is going to fire him anymore.
At 37, Mr. Coates is the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States. (…)
Without a Ph.D., Mr. Coates is an uncommon visiting professor at MIT. In fact, he doesn’t even have a college degree, having dropped out of Howard University, failing both British and American literature. Before that, he failed 11th-grade English.
“If you had told me he would be a big deal, I would have said, ‘Get real,’” said Times media critic David Carr. Mr. Coates’s first writing gig was at the Washington City Paper, where Mr. Carr was his editor. “He needed work. He was not a great speller. He wasn’t terrific with names. And he wasn’t all that ambitious.”
Indeed, it was an inauspicious beginning. (…)
Ideas about race and racial identity have always been with Mr. Coates. He was introduced to the writing world by his father, a former Black Panther and Vietnam vet who ran an Afrocentric publishing house out of the family’s home in West Baltimore. “I was surrounded by books and ideas. We literally had the machinery for creating books in our basement,” said Mr. Coates.
“Surrounded by books and ideas” but still “needed work,” couldn’t spell and an all-around failure with little ambition.