Celebrated author and East Hampton resident Colson Whitehead has won his second Pulitzer Prize, making him only the fourth writer ever to win the Pulitzer for fiction twice.
Whitehead has been honored for his book The Nickel Boys, which explores abuse of black boys at a juvenile reform school in Florida.
The writer was writing a Harlem-set mystery novel when he first heard the story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 2014 and decided to shelve the project in favor of penning The Nickel Boys. In it, he presents a fictionalized retelling of the grim stories that were spread about the reform school—stories where juveniles were subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse throughout the school’s 111-year history. The book follows the story of Elwood Curtis, an industrious, straight-laced black teenager who idolizes the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who is arrested and sent to the Nickel Academy for hitchhiking in what turns out to be a stolen car on his way to seek higher education at a nearby segregated college.
Whitehead won his first Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for The Underground Railroad, about 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.