The Water Dancer: Magical other-history of slavery
Book review: Ta-Nehisi Coates uses fiction to reassert – or perhaps even create – fact
Ta-Nehisi Coates: his work has been compared that of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.
In an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Ta-Nehisi Coates revealed that The Water Dancer took a decade to write and “to get it right”. Already an award-winning journalist and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, Coates made his name with the bestseller Between the World and Me (its title taken from a Richard Wright poem about a black man who becomes incapacitated with fear when he discovers the site of a lynching), and the essay collection We Were Eight Years in Power.
As a journalist, he found himself growing increasingly frustrated with interviewees ducking answers or insisting on the “truth” of something that was patently untrue, and so began to wonder if fiction could achieve what factual writing could not. Storytelling, he decided, had the power to go beyond myth. In correcting such faulty narration, he has neatly upended imagination and reality; in The Water Dancer’s magical other-history, fiction is being used to reassert, even to create, fact.