Conversations with Colson Whitehead by Kimberly Fain
Pulitzer Prize winner, Colson Whitehead is the James Baldwin of our times. Globally, he’s an imminent force on the literary scene. Colson received Oprah Winfrey’s praises when Underground Railroad became one of her Book Club selections, he received the National Book Award for this epic novel about slavery, director Barry Jenkins of Moonlight optioned the book for a future movie, and Barack Obama named Underground Railroad as the last novel he read as President.
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Colson Whitehead at the Brazos Bookstore. At the time, he was promoting his comical memoir The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death. Enthusiastically I told him that I was writing a book about his literary works: Colson Whitehead: The Postracial Voice of Contemporary Literature. A few fans begged to know the subject of his seventh book. Understandably he was mum about his current project. But, he must have been working on the New York Times bestseller Underground Railroad.
On March 21, 2017, Colson Whitehead held a reading at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Houston, TX. As a scholar of his works, I was determined not to miss this event. Amid the backdrop of gargantuan organ pipes, Colson read to an audience that filled every pew. With straight backs, they listened intently, as they waited for each word to drift from his mouth. The audience laughed at Colson’s sardonic tribute to his home city with The Colossus of New York. Yet, the room grew respectfully quiet as he read from the Underground Railroad detailing America’s troubled past with slave bondage.
After the Q & A, Colson signed his past and current books as pictures flashed. Surprisingly, he remembered my name. Cordially he signed Underground Railroad: To Kimberly, good to see you again! Colson Whitehead. After I took my picture with this legendary writer, I rested on a nearby chair near the Church’s exit. To my surprise, I received words appreciated by every writer inside Apex Hides the Hurt: To Kimberly, good luck with your next book, Colson Whitehead.
Kimberly Fain is a Visiting Professor in the English Department. Her book publications include Colson Whitehead (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) and Black Hollywood (Praeger, 2015).
Originally published by Texas Southern University's The Wheel Project on March 22, 2017