Colson Whitehead


by Keith Wailoo

Colson Whitehead, born and raised in New York City, has been richly awarded for his novels—imaginative and encyclopedic commentaries on culture, history, legend, and race. He is the architect of kaleidoscopic narratives—portraits of the grandly fascinating landscapes of America and of the minute dimensions of our lives. Described by critics as shrewd, original, and witty, Whitehead’s writing has been acclaimed for its ability to playfully peer “into the American soul.”

Whitehead’s novels include The Intuitionist, which is set in the Department of Elevator Inspectors in a major metropolis. Its originality and brilliance earned the author the 2000 Whiting Writers’ Award, among other prizes.

His 2001 novel, John Henry Days, is an investigation into the legend of this steel driving man—a book that peers into the story, and explores the trajectory of the narrative and the lingering appeal of folk heroism over a century of American culture and life. As Whitehead said in one interview, he kept pondering how “each generation creates its own interpretation of the John Henry story,“ and how “each interpretation is shaped by the form in which it is received.” This book was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and received the Young Lions Fiction Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize.

In 2006, Whitehead published Apex Hides the Hurt, which he has described as concerning “identity, history, and the adhesive bandage industry.”

He has also published a collection of thirteen essays—meditations on New York—entitled The Colossus of New York, and has penned many essays, reviews, and contributions for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Granta, Harper’s, and Salon. In 2002, he was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “genius“ grant funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

We’re extremely fortunate to have a writer of such accomplished breadth and originality and intelligence with us this evening at Rutgers. Whitehead will read from his forthcoming novel, Sag Harbor, an autobiographical work that describes his youthful exploits in the 1980s on Long Island.