African-American Author, Colson Whitehead made history by claiming the prestigious Pulitzer Prize For Fiction for the second time, a feat which has only been accomplished by three other authors (Booth Tarkington, William Falkner and John Updike) in the illustrious 103 year history of the prize which honours excellence in the creative arts.
AWARD WINNING FICTION
Whitehead, 50, who hails from Manhattan, New York, was awarded the prize for his latest novel The Nickel Boys (2019) which is based on the true story of a reform school for boys in Florida that during its one hundred and eleven year history was the cause of brutality and inhumane practices on its students. Whitehead’s latest triumph follows three years after his first Pulitzer Prize victory for The Underground Railroad (2016) a historical fictionalized account of two slaves on the run for freedom. The success of both books was never in doubt having appealed not only with readers around the globe but also proving to be a huge hit with among others the former United States of America President, Barack Obama, who listed both books as essential reads on his Summer Reading List.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
Last year, during a promotional tour to the UK, I got the chance to catch up with Whitehead at the launch of his book. Below is just a snippet of our discussion at that time.
Darell: How do feel to have made Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List for a second time?
Colson: I remember being very excited the first time he (Obama) picked out The Underground Railroad as a must read on his summer book list. So to now have him pick The Nickel Boys for this summer’s reading list is really pleasing. Along with some other authors I had the opportunity to meet him during the week before he left office. He told us he had always wanted to host writers and that with 8 days left in office he was delighted to have finally done so. What I love about Obama is that he’s a president who reads books. If you get invited to the White House now it’s probably because they’re shooting intellectuals on the White House lawn!
Darell: What are your memories of Toni Morrison and what impact did her work have in your life?
Colson: Growing up, Toni Morrison, obviously, was a huge inspiration. My two older sisters had paperbacks of Sula and Tar Baby – you know, the really crazy 70’s looking version of Tar Baby that is! In elementary school, during the seventh grade, I was introduced to the first chapter of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellis. That was the first and only time I was taught black fiction in all of my time at high school. So coming to college and discovering Morrison’s Beloved alongside a complete copy of Invisible Man was obviously, for me, very fortifying. The first time I met Morrison was in 2008 at Princeton where she had taught for many years. One day she said to me “let’s go have lunch” and I was like “sure.” But in my head I was thinking out loud “Me – have lunch with Toni Morrison? No – I’m me and she’s her.” So we did not have lunch because I was too ashamed of my personality. But we did meet on various other occasions like at a benefit for Obama and she was always very nice and very giving in a way that you want when you meet your idol. I say this because usually they can come across as unlikable and egotistical but in her case she was even more magnificent than you would think.
During his visit to the UK last year, Whitehead told readers that his award winning novel, The Underground Railroad, had been adapted for the small screen, with its premiere in the United States. Directed by the Academy Award winning director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, the adaptation is set to hit UK screens this Summer on Amazon Prime.
The Nickel Boys (2019) by Colson Whitehead is available now in all major bookstores.
(C) Copyright 2020, Darell J Philip