Ta-Nehisi Coates on his new novel 'The Water Dancer'

The author shares why his book took 10 years to write and explains his case for slavery reparations.
6:24 | 09/24/19

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Transcript for Ta-Nehisi Coates on his new novel 'The Water Dancer'
"The New York Times" just praised ta-nehisi Coates for almost single-handedly waking the conscience of this country on racial issues, as the author of powerful nonfiction works like "Between the world and me" and "The case for reparations," as well as "Black panther" and "Captain America" comic books, and now his very first novel, "The water dancer" has come out and they're losing their minds as I did when I read it. Please welcome ta-nehisi Coates. This is your first novel and people are losing their minds over it. It took ten years to write. Yes. Was it because the story was ever growing in your mind or because it just took that long? Well, I had to learn how to write a novel. That was the bottom line. Yeah. As it turns out, it's not easy actually. So I had been a nonfiction journalist -- nonfiction writer for years and my writer and my agent suggested I take a stab at fiction. No way I thought it would take ten years. If I had thought that I never would have done it, but here we are. It's so worth it, you can't even believe it. And it looks at the horrors of slavery through the eyes of an enslaved man, using magic to get his freedom. Tell us about this man and how magic is incorporated. The story of an enslaved man in Virginia by the name of Hiram walker. His father is the master of the plantation who has sold off his mother who was enslaved obviously. And it really is a story of Hiram wanting what all the slave people wanted at that time, freedom, but coming to understand that freedom actually means a confrontation with some past really, really horrible memories, specifically what happened to his mother. He is gifted with a natural memory. He can remember everything except the things that are most intimate and most important to him, specifically what happened to his mother. So his freedom, as it turns out, is actually tied to his memory. I can see why it took a while to write it. I got an alert on my phone last night that Oprah is bringing back her book club. Yes. And your book is number one on her list. As it turns out, yes. That's a big deal. Very lucky, very lucky. Well, not so much luck but perhaps talent. Fortunate. Fortunate. Well this year marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving in this country and your 2014 essay, "The case for reparations," restarted the debate about this issue. Meghan asked you when you came out did you know sunny because I've been raving about this essay on this show behind the scenes for years. You bring it up a lot. I bring it up a lot. Thank you. You're welcome. And I've asked every single candidate that we've had on this show about the case for reparations because of you. You spoke at a congressional hearing on reparations. Will it ever happen? I don't know. I don't know. What? No, I actually have no idea. I mean, I'm the wrong person to make predictions. That's not -- that wasn't what I did as a journalist. It's obviously not what I do as a novelist writing about I didn't think we'd have congressional hearings. So from my perspective, my job as a writer and the job of my writer is to speak the truth, you know, to the extent that they see it. I never sort of considered myself an activist or agitator, even in testifying before I wasn't sure that it was the right thing for me to do. That we have come this far is a shock to me. I wouldn't have predicted it. It's being talked about a lot. It is being talked about a But, senate majority leader Mitch Mcconnell, he won't -- he doesn't want to go along with it. He said Americans should not be held libel for something that happened 150 years ago when no one currently alive was there. So -- Yeah, yeah. What do you say to him? Speak to him. Maybe he's watching. I don't think he is but it's okay. Maybe other people -- What, alive or watching? I think that's actually a very common sentiment so I suspect there are many people who actually feel the same way. If we weren't held libel, if we weren't tied to things that happened in our past, we wouldn't have much of a country. If, you know -- George Washington, our first president, great president, we cleared are tied to him. We promote his vision of freedom, we promote the vision of freedom of Thomas Jefferson -- Even though they had slaves. But that's fine. That's okay. We don't even have to go there quite yet. But what I'm saying is we have no problem claiming our ties to the past when they credit us. Beyond that we have contractual obligations all the time that extend long beyond the lifetimes of folks. We are to this very day still actually paying pensions to the wives and veterans of World War I. I wasn't alive but I'm paying I pay taxes for highways that I don't drive down. Part of being part of a state is that you're tied and you pay for things indirectly even though you didn't actually do it. You're part of America. You're part of a bigger thing. It's a social contract basically. A social contract. If you want the goods, you want the good, the day off on president's day, you want to cook out on the fourth of July, you know, you take the good and you take the bad with it. I'm so sorry to interrupt this -- No, no, please do. -- This important conversation and switch to another important conversation that you're the author of "Black panther" and "Captain America," the marvel movies. Were you a comic book fan growing up and have you been surprised by the overwhelming success of both? Yeah, I -- that's actually the thing that stuns me more than anything. It's so weird because that's actually a really small audience regrettably but it's a really intense audience and it's probably the thing that I -- I put my heart into everything but I really, really put my heart into that one. There's no way in the world I would have thought I would be writing "Captain America" and "Black panther." You have to come back because we are people. I'm a comic book girl. You are. I am. Please. Our thanks to ta-nehisi Coates. Members of our audience are going home with a copy of his

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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