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National Book Award-winning author Colson Whitehead will deliver Black History Month Lecture at VCU

November 18, 2016

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Colson Whitehead

Whitehead is the author of two works of nonfiction and six novels, including the New York Times bestselling “The Underground Railroad,” which won the 2016 National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday.

He will speak from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9, at the James Branch Cabell Library Lecture Hall (room 303). His talk will be followed by a book sale and signing, as well as a public reception. VCU Libraries has hosted a marquee Black History Month Lecture every year for the past 14. 

“The Underground Railroad,” tells the story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves who seek freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the Underground Railroad, which Colson re-imagines as an actual railroad built underground. The novel won praise from Oprah Winfrey, who called it “one of the most grim, gripping, powerful novels about slavery I have ever experienced,” as well as from President Barack Obama.

In the New York Times’ review of the novel, Michiko Kakutani called it “a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery. It possesses the chilling, matter-of-fact power of the slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, with echoes of Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved,’ Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’ and Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man,’ and with brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift.”

Whitehead's reviews, essays and fiction have appeared in a number of publications, including the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's and Granta.

He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Dos Passos Prize and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

He has taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, and been a writer-in-residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond and the University of Wyoming.

Whitehead’s lecture at VCU will be free and open to the public. It will be part of a month filled with educational and thought-provoking events celebrating black excellence. The full list of events will be announced in January. The registration form for VCU Libraries' Black History Month lecture will go live in early 2017.

A version of this article by Brian McNeill was published by University News. 

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