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Thomas Chatterton Williams

Thomas Chatterton Williams

Best-Selling Author of Self Portraits in Black and White & Losing My Cool, and Cultural Critic


Thomas Chatterton Williams is an American cultural critic, contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and columnist at Harper’s. Read More >

His essays and reporting have appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Vanity Fair, the Atlantic, Le Monde, and many other publications. He is also the author of Losing My Cool: Love, Literature and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd, a provocative, intellectual coming-of-age memoir about juggling two disparate lifestyles — one rooted in the allure and danger of performative street culture, the other in the saving grace of literature — and the power of the bond between father and son.

His latest book, Self-Portrait in Black and White, is a reckoning with how we see and define ourselves and each other in America and beyond, expanding on his Virginia Quarterly Review essay “Black and Blue and Blond.” In this beautifully written book, drawing on his personal experience as the “black” father of two “white”-looking children in Paris, Williams disputes the notion that what we call “race" should be central to his identity — or anyone else’s.

Williams is also one of the writers of the Harper’s open letter, “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” which was signed by 153 prominent writers and intellectuals.

Williams was the National Fellow at New American in 2019, and he was the recipient of a Berlin Prize from the American Academy. He is a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and lives in Paris with his family. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Has Cancel Culture Gone Too Far? | Amanpour and Company

On Race | Bill Maher

On Cancel Culture and Race | Bill Maher

Speech Topics

Self-Portrait in Black & White: Unlearning Race

A reckoning with the way we choose to see and define ourselves, Self-Portrait in Black and White is the searching story of one American family’s multigenerational transformation from what is called black to what is assumed to be white. Thomas Chatterton Williams, the son of a “black” father from the segregated South and a “white” mother from the West, spent his whole life believing the dictum that a single drop of “black blood” makes a person black. This was so fundamental to his self-conception that he’d never rigorously reflected on its foundations ― but the shock of his experience as the black father of two extremely white-looking children led him to question these long-held convictions. It is not that he has come to believe that he is no longer black or that his kids are white, Williams notes. It is that these categories cannot adequately capture either of them ― or anyone else, for that matter. In his compelling presentation, Thomas addresses this subject and though it is bound to upset received opinions on race — he demonstrates why it is an urgent work for our time.

Losing My Cool: Love, Literature & a Black Man's Escape from the Crowd

Growing up, Thomas Chatterton Williams knew he loved three things in life: his parents, literature, and the intoxicating hip-hop culture that surrounded him. For years, he managed to juggle two disparate lifestyles, "keeping it real" in his friends' eyes and studying for the SATs under his father's strict tutelage ― until it all threatened to spin out of control. In this compelling presentation, Losing My Cool portrays the allure and danger of hip-hop culture with the authority of a true fan who's lived through it all, while demonstrating the saving grace of literature and the power of the bond between father and son.