Coates returns to talk about his first novel, "Water Dancer" with poet, essayist, and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib.
Just as Coates' renowned essays ("We Were Eight Years in Power") and memoir ("Between the World and Me") were built upon extensive study, so is his novel. He spent more than a decade researching, visiting historic sites like Monticello and Shirley Plantation and combing through primary documents, with an emphasis on oral histories by enslaved people.
In this novel, Coates brings home the most intimate evil of enslavement: the cleaving and separation of families.
Here's a synopsis of the book:
Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.
This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.