We Were Eight Years
in Power



We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ astounding collection of new and selected essays, offers a searing indictment of white supremacy in America and its horrific, centuries-long impact on African Americans in the United States. Coates presents a stunning tapestry of historical research, journalism, and personal narrative that relentlessly defies the lies and myths of slavery and exposes the long history of rape, murder, torture, economic oppression, and denial of human and civil rights to African Americans during the 150 years since the Reconstruction.

We Were Eight Years in Power features nine of Coates essays published in The Atlantic during and just after the Obama presidency. These essays explore in depth a broad range of topics, including Michelle Obama, Bill Cosby, Malcom X, the skewed historical memory of the Civil War, 20th century mass incarceration of African Americans, and—in perhaps his most famous and powerful essay—“The Case for Reparations.” Coates prefaces these essays with eight new and more intimate pieces reflecting on each year of Obama’s presidency. These new pieces reveal Coates’ drive to understand his own and the larger African American identity, and they situate his inspirations and struggles as a writer in a long tradition of African American storytellers and social critics.

There is no sentiment here. No self-pity. In a clear, knowledgeable, and often defiant voice, Coates provides a complex and potent history of white supremacy at every level of society since our nations’ beginnings and demonstrates its continued presence in our lives today. Coates calls us to face this essential part of the American identity, to reject the pretense of America as a shining democracy, and to acknowledge that America is, in his words, “the work of fallible humans.”

- Susan Southard and Alan Taylor
2018 finalist judges

Book Excerpt

Any fair consideration of the depth and width of enslavement tempts insanity. First conjure the crime — the generational destruction of human bodies—and all of its related offenses—domestic terrorism, poll taxes, mass incarceration. But then try to imagine being an individual born among the remnants of that crime, among the wronged, among the plundered, and feeling the gravity of that crime all around and seeing it in the sideways glances of the perpetrators of that crime and overhearing it in their whispers and watching these people, at best, denying their power to address the crime and, at worst, denying that any crime had occurred at all, even as their entire lives revolve around the fact of a robbery so large that it is written in our very names. This is not a thought experiment. America is literally unimaginable without plundered labor shackled to plundered land, without the organizing principle of whiteness as citizenship, without the culture crafted by the plundered, and without that culture itself being plundered.

2018 Nonfiction Winner

Ta-Nehisi Coates, photo credit Nina Subin
Click to see acceptance speech video

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates
We Were Eight Years in Power:

"When I began writing seriously, I was determined to never be an interpreter. It did not occur to me that writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one’s roots or expertise or even one’s own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience."

— Ta-Nehisi Coates                        


Ta-Nehisi Coates is a distinguished writer in residence at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. He is the author of the bestselling books The Beautiful Struggle, We Were Eight Years in Power, and Between The World And Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015. Coates is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and he is also the current author of the Marvel comics The Black Panther and Captain America.


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