Written by Asli Shebe
In a book review for The New York Times Juan Gabriel Vásquez stated that “In a sense, ‘The Underground Railroad’ is Whitehead’s own attempt at getting things right, not by telling us what we already know but by vindicating the powers of fiction to interpret the world.”
Colson Whitehead spoke of his attempt to get things right at the 2017 Savannah Book Festival on Friday, Feb. 17 at the Trustees Theater on Broughton St.
The author gave a lecture, narrating the history of his writing career, the stories that preceded “The Underground Railroad” and the ideology that led him to his award-winning novel.
#1 New York Times Bestseller, Oprah’s Book Club 2016 Selection and the winner of the National Book Award for fiction, “The Underground Railroad,” tells the story of two slaves, Cora and Caeser, who try to escape from the plantations they are enslaved in via the Underground Railroad.
“I liked to stay inside watching the Twilight Zone and the Outer limits,” Whitehead spoke of his childhood stating that it differed from that which James Joyce narrates of young writers.
Although Whitehead said he considered many career paths during his youth–including being a superhero–being a writer was the one that aligned best with his personal interests at the time.
“If you were a writer you could work from home you didn’t have to wear clothes and talk to people and you could just make up stuff all day,” he stated, discussing his youth.
Although Whitehead did call his college self out saying that he “wore black and smoked cigarettes but never sat down to write.”
Despite his earlier lack of discipline, Whitehead did eventually get a job at the Village Voice right out of college.
“The thing you have to known about the [Village] Voice is that whenever you were there it was at its height and when you left it went down hill,” Whitehead joked.
After running through his experience in the writing world Whitehead discussed his wife and editor’s thoughts on “The Underground Railroad.”
“She said, honey, I don’t want to say that your idea about a Brooklyn writer having a mid-life crisis is dumb per say, but this Underground Railroad book sounds pretty good,” his wife had said.
As for his editor, “he just said ‘Giddy up motherf***er.’ Which is old school publishing talk for ‘that’s a very compelling idea and let’s pursuit it.'”
Whitehead then read an excerpt of “The Underground Railroad” t0 the packed house.
The reading was followed by a brief Q&A. Audience members questions ranged from comments on the plot, asking whether there will be a sequel and inquiring on Savannah, Ga.’s inclusion in the novel.