Bestselling author Colson Whitehead spoke in Ann Arbor on January 12 as part of U-M’s bicentennial celebration theme semester, but it wasn’t his first visit to Treetown. Apparently, in 2001, Whitehead gave a reading at Borders to “about five people,” on a night when the Red Wings were playing for the Stanley Cup.
“It seemed like a good excuse,” said Whitehead with a shrug –- this time, to a near-capacity crowd packed into Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
Whitehead now has many more published books and years of experience under his belt, of course. But his mainstream profile spiked most dramatically in the last few months, when the publication date of his newest novel, The Underground Railroad, got bumped up a month (from September to August) due to it being named an Oprah’s Book Club selection — and nothing makes an author’s career explode quite like receiving Oprah’s imprimatur.
That’s far from Railroad’s only distinction, though. The novel also won the National Book Award for fiction and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Newsday, and more.
Railroad tells the story of Cora, a teenage plantation slave in Georgia who flees to the North, seeking her mother. Her means of travel is literally a subterranean train — rather than the series of routes and “safe houses” that composed the real underground railroad — and as the locomotive makes stops in different states, Cora is exposed to each region’s strange, sometimes surreal responses to slavery. READ THE REST HERE