Ta-Nehisi Coates released his first novel, “The Water Dancer,” on Tuesday (September 24). The book follows Hiram Walker, a man with a mysterious gift who was born into slavery. In this publication day interview with Democracy Now!, the 2015 National Book Award winner talks about the process of writing the book, the charms of fiction versus journalism and his protagonist.

“He wants what I think most enslaved people wanted, what 4 million enslaved people in 1860 wanted most. And that’s freedom,” Coates says of Walker. “‘The Water Dancer’ is his story of coming to understand that his individual freedom is actually tied to the larger vision of freedom of the community into which he was born, and refining that idea of freedom and figuring out that it means something much, much larger than anything he ever imagined.”