US author Colson Whitehead has become only the fourth writer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice. If you’ve read his work and watched interviews with him, it’s easy to see why. He takes his time, he hones his craft over many years and he’s so humble and conversational. It took him a long time to finally write The Underground Railroad because he didn’t feel as though he was a good enough writer to do the story justice when he first came up with the idea. It was well worth the wait.
Whitehead is America’s storyteller
The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead, when commenting on his book, The Underground Railroad said: “The book is brutal, and it’s brutal because it’s realistic, and it’s brutal because I want to testify for the people who went through it in any small way I can.” He meant every single word. The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a fifteen-year-old slave. Born into slavery on a Georgia plantation, her mother abandons her when she is ten years old. Caesar, another slave convinces her to flee with him.
The story follows her journey of resilience; witnessing the atrocities her friends are subject to and her struggle for freedom. Life on the plantation and slave relationships are explored at the beginning of the book. They read as strikingly authentic as themes of alliances and enemies are described in such believable ways.
This book is a hard read, but it is a necessary one; much like The Nickel Boys. Whitehead poured over 2300 first-person oral history accounts of slavery collected by the Federal Writer’s Project and what he achieves is a completely believable account of the brutality slaves underwent the injustice they faced, and the trauma they were forced to continuously endure.
Available on eBook and audiobook and of course real book once curbside is available.
The Nickel Boys
“It’s a masterpiece squared, rooted in history and American mythology and, yet, painfully topical in its visions of justice and mercy erratically denied” (NPR.com)
The Nickel Boys is the story of two boys; Elwood Curtis, a straight-laced black boy in Jim-Crow era Florida and Jack Turner; a cynic and a realist. Elwood’s most coveted possession is a Martin Luther King, Jr record gifted to him by his grandmother where he hangs on to the Dr’s every word “Throw us in jail and we will still love you,” King says. Ellis believes him and dreams of joining the ranks of great civil rights leaders one day after college.
A teacher helps him enroll in college classes and when his first day of classes arrives, he hitches a ride with a man who, unbeknownst to him has stolen the car. Ellis is sent to the Nickel Academy (based on the Dozier School for Boys,) a reform school. Here Ellis meets Turner, who has been in Nickel Academy before and watches out for Elwood, until one day he no longer can.
Based on a real school, Whitehead used many facts from the research he carried out and this is a “spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity, and redemption” (BBC.com).
Available on eBook, electronically on audiobook, and when curbside becomes available sound-recording and real book.