When the Apollo Theater decided to establish a master artist-in-residence program, Ta-Nehisi Coates was a natural choice to launch the program.
The acclaimed writer already had a strong relationship with the legendary arts center, which hosted a theatrical production of his book “Between the World and Me,” last year.
Coates’ three-year-residency kicks off on Monday with an event marking the start of a book tour for “The Water Dancer," his first fiction novel.
“It’s an incredible and deep honor,” Coates told amNewYork in a statement. “It is incredibly, incredibly important that the audience that my work comes from — the community — that it be presented before that audience as much as possible — that’s really, really important to me.”
“I don’t want people to feel disconnected, and the Apollo offers a great opportunity to make sure that connection is still there,” Coates added.
Kamilah Forbes, executive producer at the Apollo, pointed to Coates’ works in journalism, fiction, nonfiction and comic book writing.
“He is passionate about history, he is a music critic as well as sort of a cultural provocateur,” said Forbes, who directed the stage production of “Between the World and Me.” “His interests really span far and wide. We are excited by his own curiosity and that’s ultimately what we are looking to support.”
Coates’ writing has been hailed for its lyrical yet clear-eyed view of the African American experience, often referring to his own life story. “Between the World and Me” was written as a letter to his son — an examination of race, police violence and the devastating legacy of slavery and segregation.
Central to that story is the shooting death of Prince Jones, a Howard University friend of both Coates and Forbes. Jones was shot and killed in 2000 by a police officer in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
The original production relayed the book through music, images and readings. Forbes said it will return to the Apollo in October.
“We only ran it for two nights,” Forbes said. “It was such a success, we are bringing it back for more audiences to bear witness to the work.”
Coates, a fan of comic books since his childhood in Baltimore, had a chance to write a series of “Black Panther” for Marvel Comics. When the Apollo hosted a screening of the groundbreaking “Black Panther” film in 2018, Coates led a discussion with stars Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o.
He said he isn’t sure exactly what kind of projects he will undertake as an artist-in-residence.
“I never know what the work is until I’m halfway through it,” Coates said. “Obviously I hope to continue to write, you know, but I think that remains to be seen — that will come out of the partnership.”
Forbes said there will be other artists-in-residence working during the same time period.
“I think this is our opportunity to truly be a home for artists and audiences for real creative incubation and creative generation,” she said.