Paul Coates
William Paul Coates

(1946-07-04) July 4, 1946 (age 77)
EducationAntioch University; Clark Atlanta University
Occupation(s)Publisher, printer and community activist
OrganizationBlack Classic Press (founder)
Children7, incl. Ta-Nehisi Coates (son)
AwardsDorothy Porter Wesley Award
Lord Nose Award

William Paul Coates (born July 4, 1946)[1] is an American publisher, printer and community activist. In 1978 he founded the Black Classic Press (BCP), an imprint devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about individuals of African descent, particularly previously out-of-print books, and he also established the printing company BCP Digital Printing in 1995.[2] He is the father of award-winning author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.[1][3]


W. Paul Coates[4] was born in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Edna Coates and Douglas Cryor.[1] Leaving high school early, Coates enlisted in the US Army; he found himself the target of harassment and racism, but he also happened upon Richard Wright's memoir Black Boy, enlightening reading that led Coates to discover other black writers, such as Malcolm X, Dick Gregory, and James Baldwin.[3] In 1965 Coates was sent to serve in Vietnam, where he worked as a military policeman in a K-9 unit, until his discharge after 18 months, in 1967.[3]

On his return to the US, he settled in Baltimore, Maryland, and began working as a volunteer in the Black Panther Party's breakfast program. Becoming defense captain of the Baltimore Black Panthers, he was "in charge of managing all all Panther activities in Maryland, including implementing free clothing and free food programs and housing assistance, before leaving the organisation in 1971."[1]

In 1972, with other activists, he established the George Jackson Prison Movement to bring Afrocentric literature to inmates, aiming to "retrieve the souls and minds of the incarcerated".[3] The program was run from a bookstore Coates and another former Panther set up in 1973,[5] called The Black Book,[3] and he subsequently turned his efforts to founding in 1978 the Black Classic Press (BCP), characterised as "a mission-driven publishing venture focused on preserving the collective story of African-American people".[6] Originally headquartered in the basement of his home, with the company's first publications being pamphlets printed on a photocopier,[7] BCP would survive over decades to become one of the longest-running continuous African-American book publishers, alongside Haki Madhubuti's Third World Press.[5][8]

Utilizing the GI Bill that paid veterans to attend college,[3] Coates earned a BA degree in community development from the Homestead Montebello Center of Antioch University in Baltimore, in 1979, and went on to obtain a master's degree in library science from Clark Atlanta University, in 1980, after which he worked at Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center,[3] until 1991.[1] He is co-editor with Elinor Des Verney Sinnette of Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History (1990, Howard University Press).[9][10]

In 1995, Coates launched BCP Digital Printing to specialize in short-run printing, about which he said in 2018: "There are many publishing companies, but there's still only one Black book printing company in this country that I know of and that's Black Classic Press."[2]

An impactful landmark for BCP came in 1997, when award-winning author Walter Mosley granted the company publication rights to his novel Gone Fishin' – deliberately opting for an independent black publisher and waiving his customary six-figure advance – and the novel became one of BCP's most successful titles, with sales of more than 100,000 copies.[1][3][11][12] Among other notable contemporary and historic authors on the list are John Henrik Clarke, E. Ethelbert Miller, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Dorothy B. Porter, Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edward Blyden, J. E. Casely Hayford, Bobby Seale, John G. Jackson, Carter Woodson, and J. A. Rogers, with the press specializing in obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent.[5][8][9] As Coates says in the mission statement of BCP: "We began publishing because we wanted to extend the memory of what we believe are important books that have helped in meaningful ways to shape the Black diasporic experience and our understanding of the world."[13]

Coates is a founding member and chair of the National Association of Black Book Publishers, and has served as adjunct instructor of African American Studies at Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore.[14]


In 2018, in recognition of his excellence in contributing to the information profession Coates received the inaugural Dorothy Porter Wesley Award[15][16] from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History ASALH), established "to honor and document the outstanding work of Information Professionals; Bibliophiles, Librarians, Archivists, Curators and Collectors."[17]

In 2020, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) awarded Coates its Lord Nose Award, given annually in recognition of a lifetime of work in literary publishing.[18]

Personal life

Coates has seven biological children, as well as two children through his third marriage, in 2010.[19] His son Ta-Nehisi writes about growing up with his father in a well-received 2008 memoir and tribute, entitled The Beautiful Struggle.[8][20][21][22] In the Los Angeles Times, Lynell George summarized the book by saying: "What overshadows all is his father's presence, his omnipresence—the profile and teachings of a man who had a strong hand in the rearing of his progeny, both his intimate circle and the extended family of African Americans traversing an uncertain landscape. His guiding principle was simple: 'I'm not here to be your friend. My job is to get you through. To make you conscious of the world around you. To teach lessons that can carry over.'"[23]

The 2020 book The Brother You Choose: Paul Coates and Eddie Conway Talk About Life, Politics, and The Revolution, written by Susie Day, is an exploration of the friendship forged during prison visits that Coates made to support Eddie Conway, a former associate through the Black Panther Party, who had been wrongfully convicted and was incarcerated for more than four decades, until his release on parole in 2014.[24][25][26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "W.Paul Coates". The HistoryMakers. January 20, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Stacy M. (July 3, 2018). "Paul Coates Celebrates 40 Years at Black Classic Press, BCP Digital Printing". Washington Informer. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Breckenridge, Kenneth Stone (January 2018). "Forward Press". Baltimore. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  4. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (November 23, 2013). "In Defense of a Loaded Word". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c Jackson, D. Amari (February 22, 2017). "How an Ex-Black Panther Waged a Successful, Four-Decade Revolution In Publishing Without Planning To". Atlanta Black Star. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  6. ^ Reid, Calvin (May 11, 2018). "Black Classic Press Marks 40 Years". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  7. ^ "Paul Coates Publishing Discussion". Eso Won Books. November 7, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c Pride, Felicia (June 4, 2008). "Manning Up: The Coates Family's Beautiful Struggle in Word and Deed". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on June 6, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  9. ^ a b "W. Paul Coates". African American Literature Book Club. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  10. ^ Ferguson, R. A. (June 2017). "Ode to the Black Bouquinistes: Bibliomaniacs of the Black Radical Tradition". CLA Journal. 60 SPECIAL ISSUE: Democratizing the Black Public Intellectual: The Writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates (4): 399–413. doi:10.1353/caj.2017.0016. JSTOR 26557002.
  11. ^ Carvajal, Doreen (June 24, 1996). "Enlisting A Small Publisher". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Singletary, Michelle (March 31, 1997). "Opening a New Chapter in Publishing". Washington Post.
  13. ^ "About Us". Black Classic Press. Retrieved 3 March 2022.
  14. ^ "Paul Coates on Finding Hope—and Doubt—in the Present Moment | In Conversation with Walter Mosley on The Quarantine Tapes". Lit Hub. January 21, 2021. Retrieved March 5, 2022.
  15. ^ "Informational Professionals | 2018 Awardee". ASALH. 21 April 2020. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  16. ^ "W. Paul Coates: Recipient of the First Dr. Dorothy Porter Wesley Award" (PDF). Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  17. ^ "The Dorothy Porter Wesley Award". ASALH. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  18. ^ "2020 Lord Nose Award | Celebrating W. Paul Coates and Black Classics Press". CLMP. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  19. ^ Hylton, Wyl S. (April 10, 2019). "Now We're Talking". Huff Post. Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  20. ^ Conan, Neal (June 9, 2008). "Struggling with Style – Ta-Nehisi Coates". Talk of the Nation. NPR. Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  21. ^ Gross, Terry (February 18, 2009). "Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Unlikely Road to Manhood'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  22. ^ Benjamin, Rich (September 1, 2016). "The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates review – subverting white expectations". The Guardian.
  23. ^ George, Lynell (July 9, 2008). "Lessons from Dad". Los Angeles Times.
  24. ^ Yates, Michael D. (April 1, 2021). "These Brothers Chose Well". Monthly Review. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  25. ^ Cassie, Ron (October 2020). "'The Brother You Choose' Details Enduring Bond Between Paul Coates and Eddie Conway". Baltimore. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  26. ^ "Susie Day, W. Paul Coates and Eddie Conway". AALBC. Retrieved March 11, 2022.