By Kate Clinton.


Ever since Dr. Ben Carson demonstrated that the ability to separate Siamese twins is a qualification for the presidency, I see helpful pairings everywhere.

I happened to read Paul Beatty's scathing satiric novel The Sellout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) shortly before I read Ta-Nehisi Coates's must-read 2008 memoir Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood (Spiegel and Grau). Both are about urban life, the civil rights era, and a father-son relationship. In The Sellout, set in a lost neighborhood of Los Angeles, the narrator teams up with a local legend, Hominy Jenkins, the last surviving Little Rascal, to avenge his father's death in a police shootout. They attempt to reinstitute slavery and resegregate a local high school and end up before the Supreme Court. The outrageous satire gave eerie complementarity to Coates's memoir.

Coates's 2015 book, Between the World and Me, is a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. Written as a series of letters to his own teenaged son, it chronicles Coates's life, from his childhood in urban Baltimore to Howard University to his life as one of America's most influential writers on race in The Atlantic and other publications. Coates gives context to the violence against black people in Ferguson and South Carolina, explaining the history and context of racism in America.

I have not yet seen the Broadway hip-hop musical based on Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, about a son of the Caribbean, born in British Nevis and raised in Danish St...

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