Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Curating a Festival About Black Identity, the Rise of Right Wing Populism, and Immigration in America and France


The Festival Albertine has just announced the curator for its third year in existence: Between the World and Me author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who recently moved back to the United States after a year in France, is coordinating this year’s festival around the themes of black American and French identities, and what’s changed in both places since the Black Lives Matter movement started driving conversations about race and social justice; the state of both countries’ approaches to immigration, as well as the impact those approaches have had with the countries’ relationships to the world around them; and the rise of right wing populism in both places.

The Festival Albertine — held at the exquisite, newish French embassy bookstore in New York City — bills itself as a forum “featuring young and established intellectuals with politically engaged voices and diverse cultural perspectives.” In 2015, it’d had numerous curators, with authors Judith Thurman, Dinaw Mengestu, Adam Gopnik, Performa founding director Roselee Goldberg, and editor/designer Françoise Mouly putting together the talks, while, more similarly to this year, 2014’s festival was curated solely by Greil Marcus.

This year’s list of highly influential speakers invited by Coates include artist Kehinde Wiley, Studio Museum chief curator/director Thelma Golden, Black Panther/Fruitvale Station writer/director Ryan Coogler (who notably said that his Black Panther movie was inspired by Coates’ recent additions to the canon), poet Claudia Rankine, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, author Darryl Pinckney, New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, comic author Kelly Sue Deconnick, NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts founder/director Jennifer Homans, sociologist Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, author Amin Maalouf, French historian (whose focuses on North American history) Pap Ndiaye and London Review of Books‘ Adam Shatz.

Coates released a statement about his vision for the festival, which will be held in early November (as the press release notes, that’s mere days before the election — so the country’s social climate will likely be even more tense!):

[The festival’s] vehicle for this understanding will be the arts—dance, music, literature, film, and the visual arts. These questions of identity have been tackled ad infinitum by those interested in sociology and electoral politics. But art shapes the imagination and outlines the sense of what is possible. It is art that attacks and interrogates our labels and chosen names, and reduces us to our common humanity.

The press release draws on Coates’ interest in James Baldwin’s study of race across both America and France. (Between the World and Me’s structure was a major nod to Baldwin’s first essay in his book on race in America, The Fire Next Time.) In putting together the festival, Coates specifically mentions Baldwin’s No Name in the Street, the author’s 1972 memoir that in part drew, as Coates describes, “a not-so-subtle comparison with his own identity as a black American” and Algerians in Paris. Coates continues:

[Baldwin] was also doing something more—asserting the labels we use to ascribe identity are situational. The words ‘black,’ ‘Arab,’ ‘Muslim,’ ‘American’ and ‘French’ are not bone-deep and immutable, but categories that have no meaning outside of history and events.

The event will be held at Albertine books from November 2 to November 6.