NEW YORK (AP) — The Apollo Theater audience cheered and cheered for Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the readers of “Between the World and Me.”
A capacity crowd at the famed New York City venue was on hand Monday night for a stage recital of Coates’ prize-winning book, one met throughout with applause and calls of approval.
Coates appeared unannounced and read briefly at the end of the roughly 100-minute event, following eight scheduled readers who included Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett, the rappers Common and Black Thought and Emmy-winning “Scandal” actor Joe Morton. The others were librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph and stage actors Michelle Wilson, Greg Alvarez Reid and Pauletta Pearson Washington.
“Between the World and Me,” published in 2015, is a letter from Coates to his son Samori and a hybrid of memoir, history, advice and condemnation of police violence against blacks. Coates won the National Book Award for the best-seller, which remains widely read and discussed.
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The theatrical production, directed by Kamilah Forbes and adapted from the book by Lauren A. Whitehead and Talvin Wilks, blended words, music and visual imagery, from pictures of Malcolm X to streaks of rain on glass. The readers sometimes stood, sometimes sat, sometimes read alone, or in pairs, or all together. A jazz trio on the upper stage played for much of the show, led by pianist Jason Moran, who composed the soundtrack for the film “Selma.” They opened with light, rolling rhythms, and turned harder as the tragedies in “Between the World And Me” accumulated. (Forbes and Coates both attended Howard University, the alma mater of their mutual friend Prince Jones, whose murder by a police officer is a centerpiece of the book). Midway through the show, Common and Black Thought rapped together, with Common updating his “Black America Again” to add a reference to Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man shot and killed by police in Sacramento, California.
“Here we go, here, here we go again,” he rapped.
Monday night was the debut performance, to be followed by a show on Tuesday (with a slightly different group of readers) at the Apollo and continuing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.