Colson Whitehead Claims Pulitzer for ‘The Underground Railroad’

Colson Whitehead kicks off Fridays at Five at the Bridgehampton Library
Colson Whitehead, Photo: Bridgehampton Library Fridays at Five

Author of Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead’s gritty novel The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction on Monday, adding to a year of positive press and accolades. The Pulitzer committee described the novel as a “smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the dram of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

The story revolves around a young slave named Cora who decides to escape her cotton plantation with her new friend Caesar. They face many hardships, racist remarks and horrific scenes along the journey. When they reach the Underground Railroad, it’s not a metaphor as it is in our history books, it’s a literal subway system with train conductors and engineers leading our protagonists from Georgia through South Carolina and, finally, to freedom in the North.

When the book first came out in August 2016, it was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. Oprah Winfrey described The Underground Railroad as “one of the most grim, gripping, powerful novels about slavery I have ever experienced.”

The #1 New York Times best-seller won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction last fall, and this week’s Pulitzer makes it the first novel in 24 years to win both awards. The American Library Association also awarded it the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in January 2017.

In March, Amazon announced it would create a limited drama series based on the book. Barry Jenkins, co-writer and director of the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, has been selected to write and direct this new project.

With all of attention and praise surrounding the novel, it’s no wonder Whitehead told USA Today his “baseline happiness level has been pretty high the last 10 months.” Although, he’s chosen to stay modest about his accomplishments, stating, “I try to do the same old thing and hope it works out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it really did.”

The Underground Railroad is Whitehead’s sixth novel, preceded by Zone One, Sag Harbor, Apex Hided the Hurt, John Henry Days and The Intuitionist.

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