by Ta-Nehisi Coates
from the June 10 & 17, 2019 issue of The New Yorker
It’s always great to welcome in the summer with the annual New Yorker fiction issue. This year’s issue features three pieces, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Conduction.”
While the other two authors featured in this issue are unknown to me (and I suspect many out there), Ta-Nehisi Coates is not. His journalism has been an important part of the last decade in America, and his epistolary Between the World and Me was a deservedly acclaimed book that is just as important to read now as it was four years ago when it came out.
Here we have an excerpt from his forthcoming debut novel, The Water Dancer, which will surely be a hit when it arrives in September. I personally cannot wait. Coates is a great writer, and that shows in this opening to “Conduction,” where he gives his narrator an intelligent and appropriately nineteenth-century voice:
I departed Virginia with few effects to my name and no real farewells, on a hot summer Monday morning, four months after I had run from Lockless, the plantation of my birth, the plantation of my father. And, though I knew that I would be, somehow, called back there, it was for now behind me—along with the crimes of my father, the slave-catchers known as Ryland’s Hounds, and the spectre of my dancing mother, whom I could barely remember, a void in me that I knew was somehow tied to her sale. I walked most of that day and spent the night in the small farmhouse of an old widower sympathetic to the cause. Then, on Tuesday, I set out for the town of Clarksburg, where the first leg of my train journey would commence.
The plan was to cross through Virginia by the North West Virginia Railroad and then, once in Maryland, link up with the Baltimore & Ohio and proceed east and north up into the free lands of Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia. There was a shorter route, due north, but there had been some recent troubles with Ryland along the rail there, and it was felt that the audacity of this approach, right through the slave port of Baltimore, would not be expected. When I reached the Clarksburg station, I spotted Hawkins and Bland sitting beneath a red awning, where a flock of blackbirds perched. Hawkins was fanning himself with his hat. Bland was looking down the track, in the opposite direction from where the train would approach. We all made sure to take no note of one another.
While I’m usually against excerpts, I’m definitely going to read this one. The author and the taste I got compel me to.
So what do you think of the story? Does it encourage you to read the book?