Winfrey picks Ta-Nehisi Coates novel for her book club

Oprah Winfrey has chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upcoming and first novel The Water Dancer as her highly anticipated new book club selection. 

The book, which will be released on September 24, tells the story of a young boy born into slavery on a plantation only to later discover he has mysterious powers which he uses in the Underground Railroad.

In writing the book Coates did extensive research, ranging from reading interviews with ex-slaves and consulting a 19th-century Farmer’s Almanac to numerous and revelatory visits to former plantations.

And then came that call from Oprah Winfrey.

‘I was just as surprised as anybody. I pretty much write for myself and the only people I think about are my wife and my editor,’ Coates said on discovering she was choosing his book for her club. 

Oprah Winfrey has chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel The Water Dancer as her highly anticipated new book club selection

Oprah Winfrey has chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel The Water Dancer as her highly anticipated new book club selection

'I was just as surprised as anybody. I pretty much write for myself and the only people I think about are my wife and my editor,' Coates said. Oprah Winfrey has chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel The Water Dancer as her highly anticipated new book club selection

'I was just as surprised as anybody. I pretty much write for myself and the only people I think about are my wife and my editor,' Coates said. Oprah Winfrey has chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel The Water Dancer as her highly anticipated new book club selection

Oprah Winfrey has chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel The Water Dancer as her highly anticipated new book club selection

‘I was really happy (about the news from Winfrey). But I think the most encouraging part was that she’s a reader. It was clear from the conversation that she’s a reader. This is not a marketing ploy. There’s nothing to be cynical about,’ he added. 

Winfrey announced Monday that she chose The Water Dancer to formally begin her new book club partnership with Apple, for which she plans a selection every other month. 

She called it ‘one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. Right up there in the Top 5’. 

The Water Dancer tells the story of a young boy born into slavery on a plantation in the U.S. only to later discover he has mysterious powers and joins the Underground Railroad. The book will be released September 24

The Water Dancer tells the story of a young boy born into slavery on a plantation in the U.S. only to later discover he has mysterious powers and joins the Underground Railroad. The book will be released September 24

The Water Dancer tells the story of a young boy born into slavery on a plantation in the U.S. only to later discover he has mysterious powers and joins the Underground Railroad. The book will be released September 24

Coates is an esteemed writer whose moving autobiography Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award. He’s also acclaimed for his 2014 essay for The Atlantic magazine The Case for Reparations which pushed the cause for issuing payments to descendants of slaves into a national conversation.

In October, Winfrey will interview Coates before a live audience at Apple Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C., a conversation that will air November 1 on Apple TV Plus, the new streaming service. 

While discussing the impact of The Water Dancer, Winfrey was brought to tears.   

‘I have not felt this way about a book since Beloved,’ Winfrey said of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by her friend and literary idol Toni Morrison, who died in August.

‘I knew early on the book was going to cut me up. I ended up with my soul pierced,’ she added. 

The 43-year-old Coates said that he began the novel after completing his first book a memior entitled The Beautiful Struggle, and acting on editor Chris Jackson’s suggestion that he try fiction. 

Jackson said The Beautiful Struggle demonstrated Coates’ ‘ability to dive so deeply and imaginatively into a character’s interior life and invent an idiom to tell the story that was more Joyce-ian than journalistic.’ 

Coates, who had been reading extensively about the Civil War at the time, wanted to open readers to the ‘inner lives of enslaved black folks,’ a ‘thriller’ that would also dramatize the most profound questions of freedom and identity.

He worked off and on over the next few years on The Water Dancer, while honing a literary voice – of realism and poetry, outrage and exploration – that Morrison would liken to James Baldwin’s.  

'I was just as surprised as anybody. I pretty much write for myself and the only people I think about are my wife and my editor,' Coates said on learning Winfrey chose his book for her new book club partnership with Apple

'I was just as surprised as anybody. I pretty much write for myself and the only people I think about are my wife and my editor,' Coates said on learning Winfrey chose his book for her new book club partnership with Apple

‘I was just as surprised as anybody. I pretty much write for myself and the only people I think about are my wife and my editor,’ Coates said on learning Winfrey chose his book for her new book club partnership with Apple 

‘It wasn’t really that difficult,’ he said of finding time for his novel. ‘I really liked writing The Water Dancer. It was like I get to go play again.’

Winfrey’s original book club was started in 1996. She has since helped turn dozens of books into best-sellers, from novels by William Faulkner to a memoir by Sidney Poitier. For The Water Dancer and her upcoming choices, Apple has pledged that for each copy purchased through Apple Books, it will make a contribution to the American Library Association to support local libraries.

Winfrey said she was wary at first of The Water Dancer, if only because she found Coates such a ‘beautiful essayist’ and wondered if he could move beyond the factual world.

Speaking on his process of writing The Water Dancer, which follows protagonist Hiram Walker’s journey into the Underground railroad he said: ”I really liked his story, and I said, “This is it.”‘

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