Thomas Chatterton Williams
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About Thomas Chatterton Williams
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of Losing My Cool and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, the London Review of Books, and many other places. He is a 2019 New America Fellow and the recipient of a Berlin Prize.
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Titles By Thomas Chatterton Williams
A Time “Must-Read” Book of 2019
“[Williams] is so honest and fresh in his observations, so skillful at blending his own story with larger principles, that it is hard not to admire him.” —Andrew Solomon, New York Times Book Review (front page)
The son of a “black” father and a “white” mother, Thomas Chatterton Williams found himself questioning long-held convictions about race upon the birth of his blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter—and came to realize that these categories cannot adequately capture either of them, or anyone else. In telling the story of his family’s multigenerational transformation from what is called black to what is assumed to be white, he reckons with the way we choose to see and define ourselves. Self-Portrait in Black and White is a beautifully written, urgent work for our time.
Into Williams's childhood home-a one-story ranch house-his father crammed more books than the local library could hold. "Pappy" used some of these volumes to run an academic prep service; the rest he used in his unending pursuit of wisdom. His son's pursuits were quite different-"money, hoes, and clothes." The teenage Williams wore Medusa- faced Versace sunglasses and a hefty gold medallion, dumbed down and thugged up his speech, and did whatever else he could to fit into the intoxicating hip-hop culture that surrounded him. Like all his friends, he knew exactly where he was the day Biggie Smalls died, he could recite the lyrics to any Nas or Tupac song, and he kept his woman in line, with force if necessary.
But Pappy, who grew up in the segregated South and hid in closets so he could read Aesop and Plato, had a different destiny in mind for his son. For years, Williams managed to juggle two disparate lifestyles- "keeping it real" in his friends' eyes and studying for the SATs under his father's strict tutelage. As college approached and the stakes of the thug lifestyle escalated, the revolving door between Williams's street life and home life threatened to spin out of control. Ultimately, Williams would have to decide between hip-hop and his future. Would he choose "street dreams" or a radically different dream- the one Martin Luther King spoke of or the one Pappy held out to him now?
Williams is the first of his generation to measure the seductive power of hip-hop against its restrictive worldview, which ultimately leaves those who live it powerless. Losing My Cool portrays the allure and the danger of hip-hop culture like no book has before. Even more remarkably, Williams evokes the subtle salvation that literature offers and recounts with breathtaking clarity a burgeoning bond between father and son.
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