What made the Underground Railroad so successful?
- The Underground Railroad was established to aid enslaved people in their escape to freedom. The railroad was comprised of dozens of secret routes and safe houses originating in the slaveholding states and extending all the way to the Canadian border, the only area where fugitives could be assured of their freedom.
Is the Underground Railroad book an allegory?
When Historical Fiction Becomes Allegory: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a young slave, who escapes a Georgia plantation hoping to hop a ride to freedom on the Underground Railroad. This novel is an allegory of sorts.
Who was the best known rescuer on the Underground Railroad?
Harriet Tubman is perhaps the best-known figure related to the underground railroad. She made by some accounts 19 or more rescue trips to the south and helped more than 300 people escape slavery.
Is Underground a true story?
Underground’s stars say the same. So while Underground is not based on any specific real people, it proves that you can still be very faithful to history without following the events of a single person’s life.
Who is Colson Whitehead’s wife?
It includes four buildings, two of which were used by Harriet Tubman. Ashtabula County had over thirty known Underground Railroad stations, or safehouses, and many more conductors. Nearly two-thirds of those sites still stand today.
Did the Quakers start the Underground Railroad?
Quakers played a huge role in the formation of the Underground Railroad, with George Washington complaining as early as 1786 that a “society of Quakers, formed for such purposes, have attempted to liberate” a neighbor’s slave.
How old would Harriet Tubman be today?
Harriet Tubman’s exact age would be 201 years 10 months 28 days old if alive. Total 73,747 days. Harriet Tubman was a social life and political activist known for her difficult life and plenty of work directed on promoting the ideas of slavery abolishment.
Was Harriet Tubman an abolitionist?
Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom in the North along the route of the Underground Railroad.
What states did the Underground Railroad go through?
These were called “stations,” “safe houses,” and “depots.” The people operating them were called “stationmasters.” There were many well-used routes stretching west through Ohio to Indiana and Iowa. Others headed north through Pennsylvania and into New England or through Detroit on their way to Canada.
What happened to Lovey in the Underground Railroad?
She secretly decides to join Cora and Caesar’s escape mission but she is captured early in the journey by hog hunters who return her to Randall, where she is killed by being impaled by a metal spike, her body left on display to discourage others who think of trying to escape.
Is Colin Whitehead married?
The American writer Colson Whitehead’s biological parents, are Arch and Mary Anne Whitehead. His parents previously owned a recruiting firm. Furthermore, Colson grew up in Manhattan, the United States, along with his brother Clarke Whitehead and his two sisters, whose identities are sealed at the moment.
Does Colson Whitehead teach?
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.
The True History Behind Amazon Prime’s ‘Underground Railroad’
During the latter decades of slavery in the United States, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 freedom seekers crossed the border into Canada. The Province of Canada received 15,000 to 20,000 fugitives between 1850 and 1860 alone. It eventually became the primary terminal for the Underground Railroad. The immigrants dispersed throughout what is now the province of Ontario. This encompassed the cities of Niagara Falls, Buxton, Chatham, Owen Sound, Windsor, Sandwich (now a part of Windsor), Hamilton, Brantford, London, Oakville, and Toronto.
Following this huge migration, Black Canadians assisted in the formation of strong communities and the advancement of the provinces in which they resided and worked.
A thorough report of one such occurrence was published in the Provincial Freeman newspaper.
They were looking for a young man by the name of Joseph Alexander.
Alexander was among the throngs of people, and he and his old owner exchanged pleasantries.
The men were forced to depart town after the mob refused to allow them to grab Alexander.
Did Colson Whitehead baseThe Underground Railroadon a true story?
During the latter decades of enslavement in the United States, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 freedom seekers crossed into Canada. Between 1850 and 1860, alone, 15,000 to 20,000 fugitives made their way to the Province of Canada. It eventually became the primary destination of the Underground Railroad. The immigrants settled in various sections of what is now Ontario. This encompassed the cities of Niagara Falls, Buxton, Chatham, Owen Sound, Windsor, Sandwich (now part of Windsor), Hamilton, Brantford, London, Oakville, and Toronto.
- Following this huge migration, Black Canadians contributed to the creation of strong communities and the advancement of the provinces in which they resided and worked.
- The Provincial Freeman newspaper published a thorough report of one such occurrence.
- They were on the hunt for a young guy by the name of Joseph Alexander.
- Alexander was among the throngs of people and had a brief verbal encounter with his old owner.
He turned down the men’s offer of $100 to join them to Windsor. The men were forced to flee town after the mob refused to allow them to grab Alexander. Alexander was given the opportunity to live his life freely.
What time period doesThe Underground Railroadcover?
Caesar (Aaron Pierre) and Cora (Thuso Mbedu) believe they’ve discovered a safe haven in South Carolina, but their new companions’ behaviors are based on a belief in white supremacy, as seen by their deeds. Kyle Kaplan is a producer at Amazon Studios. The Underground Railroad takes place around the year 1850, which coincides with the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Act. Runaways who had landed in free states were targeted by severe regulations, and those who supported them were subjected to heavy punishments.
In spite of the fact that it was intended to hinder the Underground Railroad, according to Foner and Sinha, the legislation actually galvanized—and radicalized—the abolitionist cause.
“Every time the individual switches to a different condition, the novel restarts,” the author explains in his introduction.
” Cora’s journey to freedom is replete with allusions to pivotal moments in post-emancipation history, ranging from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the mid-20th century to white mob attacks on prosperous Black communities in places like Wilmington, North Carolina (targeted in 1898), and Tulsa, Oklahoma (targeted in 1898).
According to Spencer Crew, former president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and emeritus director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, this “chronological jumble” serves as a reminder that “the abolition of slavery does not herald the abolition of racism and racial attacks.” This problem has survived in many forms, with similar effects on the African American community,” says the author.
What real-life events doesThe Underground Railroaddramatize?
In Whitehead’s envisioned South Carolina, abolitionists provide newly liberated people with education and work opportunities, at least on the surface of things. However, as Cora and Caesar quickly discover, their new companions’ conviction in white superiority is in stark contrast to their kind words. (Eugenicists and proponents of scientific racism frequently articulated opinions that were similar to those espoused by these fictitious characters in twentieth-century America.) An inebriated doctor, while conversing with a white barkeep who moonlights as an Underground Railroad conductor, discloses a plan for his African-American patients: I believe that with targeted sterilization, initially for the women, then later for both sexes, we might liberate them from their bonds without worry that they would slaughter us in our sleep.
- “Controlled sterilization, research into communicable diseases, the perfecting of new surgical techniques on the socially unfit—was it any wonder that the best medical talents in the country were flocking to South Carolina?” the doctor continues.
- The state joined the Union in 1859 and ended slavery inside its borders, but it specifically incorporated the exclusion of Black people from its borders into its state constitution, which was finally repealed in the 1920s.
- In this image from the mid-20th century, a Tuskegee patient is getting his blood taken.
- There is a ban on black people entering the state, and any who do so—including the numerous former slaves who lack the financial means to flee—are murdered in weekly public rituals.
- The plot of land, which is owned by a free Black man called John Valentine, is home to a thriving community of runaways and free Black people who appear to coexist harmoniously with white residents on the property.
- An enraged mob of white strangers destroys the farm on the eve of a final debate between the two sides, destroying it and slaughtering innocent onlookers.
- There is a region of blackness in this new condition.” Approximately 300 people were killed when white Tulsans demolished the thriving Black enclave of Greenwood in 1921.
- Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons According to an article published earlier this year by Tim Madigan for Smithsonianmagazine, a similar series of events took place in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, which was known locally as “Black Wall Street,” in June 1921.
- Madigan pointed out that the slaughter was far from an isolated incident: “In the years preceding up to 1921, white mobs murdered African Americans on hundreds of instances in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Duluth, Charleston, and other places,” according to the article.
In addition, Foner explains that “he’s presenting you the variety of options,” including “what freedom may actually entail, or are the constraints on freedom coming after slavery?” “It’s about. the legacy of slavery, and the way slavery has twisted the entire civilization,” says Foner of the film.
How doesThe Underground Railroadreflect the lived experience of slavery?
“How can I construct a psychologically plausible plantation?” Whitehead is said to have pondered himself while writing on the novel. According to theGuardian, the author decided to think about “people who have been tortured, brutalized, and dehumanized their whole lives” rather than depicting “a pop culture plantation where there’s one Uncle Tom and everyone is just incredibly nice to each other.” For the remainder of Whitehead’s statement, “Everyone will be battling for the one additional mouthful of food in the morning, fighting for the tiniest piece of property.” According to me, this makes sense: “If you put individuals together who have been raped and tortured, this is how they would behave.” Despite the fact that she was abandoned as a child by her mother, who appears to be the only enslaved person to successfully escape Ridgeway’s clutches, Cora lives in the Hob, a derelict building reserved for outcasts—”those who had been crippled by the overseers’ punishments,.
who had been broken by the labor in ways you could see and in ways you couldn’t see, who had lost their wits,” as Whitehead describes Cora is played by Mbedu (center).
With permission from Amazon Studios’ Atsushi Nishijima While attending a rare birthday party for an older enslaved man, Cora comes to the aid of an orphaned youngster who mistakenly spills some wine down the sleeve of their captor, prompting him to flee.
Cora agrees to accompany Caesar on his journey to freedom a few weeks later, having been driven beyond the threshold of endurance by her punishment and the bleakness of her ongoing life as a slave.
As a result, those who managed to flee faced the potential of severe punishment, he continues, “making it a perilous and risky option that individuals must choose with care.” By making Cora the central character of his novel, Whitehead addresses themes that especially plagued enslaved women, such as the fear of rape and the agony of carrying a child just to have the infant sold into captivity elsewhere.
The account of Cora’s sexual assault in the novel is heartbreakingly concise, with the words “The Hob ladies stitched her up” serving as the final word.
Although not every enslaved women was sexually assaulted or harassed, they were continuously under fear of being raped, mistreated, or harassed, according to the report.
With permission from Amazon Studios’ Atsushi Nishijima The novelist’s account of the Underground Railroad, according to Sinha, “gets to the core of how this venture was both tremendously courageous and terribly perilous.” She believes that conductors and runaways “may be deceived at any time, in situations that they had little control over.” Cora, on the other hand, succinctly captures the liminal state of escapees.
- “What a world it is.
- “Was she free of bondage or still caught in its web?” “Being free had nothing to do with shackles or how much room you had,” Cora says.
- The location seemed enormous despite its diminutive size.
- In his words, “If you have to talk about the penalty, I’d prefer to see it off-screen.” “It’s possible that I’ve been reading this for far too long, and as a result, I’m deeply wounded by it.
- view of it is that it feels a little bit superfluous to me.
- In his own words, “I recognized that my job was going to be coupling the brutality with its psychological effects—not shying away from the visual representation of these things, but focusing on what it meant to the people.” “Can you tell me how they’re fighting back?
History of the United States Based on a true story, this film Books Fiction about the American Civil War Racism SlaveryTelevision Videos That Should Be Watched
Fact and fiction in ‘The Underground Railroad’
In preparation for Colson Whitehead’s visit to campus, three Lesley professors convened a symposium in Washburn Lounge to debate the intersection of reality, fiction, and imagination in the author’s famous work, “The Underground Railroad.” The discussion was open to the public. A total of 40 students, instructors, and staff members took part in the event. Please see below for a brief overview if you haven’t already done so. A young lady named Cora is captured in Georgia and sold into slavery, with her only hope of escaping through the Underground Railroad.
His description of the train, in instance, is that of a real, subterranean form of transit that transports Cora from one condition to another.
Despite the fact that Whitehead uses artistic license to great advantage, Assistant Professor Tatiana Cruz believes that it might also lead to some misunderstanding.
Cruz described the true underground railroad, which was primarily run by “everyday black folks,” not white abolitionists, and which was primarily operated in states bordering free states, because it was too dangerous to run such an operation in more southern states, as outlined in the book Underground Railroad: A History.
A significant number of slaves were illiterate, and their inability to comprehend maps and road signs added an additional element of risk to an already perilous journey.
The narrative of Cora, on the other hand, depicts a lady who is on a trip.
It is the path of a man toward self-knowledge that defines his journey.” Dockray-Miller stated that “The Underground Railroad” draws on literary influences such as Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and “Gulliver’s Travels,” but added that “he’s remixing it and making it his own.” In her opinion, Whitehead has established a literary trope for which there is no existing label.
While many have referred to the work as magical realism, Ronderos disagreed, claiming that it was too realistic to fall into that category.
As a result, even in the novel’s fantasy components, the heart of the narrative — from the brutality inflicted on enslaved people to the vicious chase of escaped slaves — is represented accurately.
Moreover, according to Dockray-Miller, while the work is primarily concerned with the past, it also contains a message for readers today and in the future.
“I believe Colson Whitehead is bright in a variety of ways,” she stated. “He’s an artist who understands the beauty of the English language and knows how to utilize it to great advantage,” says the author.
‘The Underground Railroad’ Takes Liberties — But It’s More Fact Than Fiction
The winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is now available to watch on a screen near you via Netflix. It’s impossible not to be excited about the adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad into a limited series on Amazon Prime Video, which will premiere in the fall. What makes the novel so compelling is Whitehead’s imaginative take on the antebellum American South—but Whitehead’s magical realism may cause some readers (and now viewers) to wonder how much of The Underground Railroad is based on real history.
- Here’s all you need to know about the situation.
- This epic trip through the United States in quest of freedom is chronicled in The Underground Railroad, which follows Cora, a woman born into slavery on a Georgia farm, as she embarks on her journey.
- Cora is joined by a variety of companions, including Lovey and Caesar.
- The Underground Railroad, a Prime Video original film directed by Moonlight writer-director Barry Jenkins, is currently streaming on the service.
- Here’s everything you need to know about The Underground Railroad’s historical accuracy and fiction:
The Underground Railroad
So, let’s start with the actual railroad system. Although it’s widely known today, the real-life Underground Railroad was an interconnected network of white and BIPOC abolitionists — some of whom had been enslaved themselves — who collaborated to smuggle runaways from Southern plantations to free states, the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as Canada. The conductors of the railroad would conceal Black fugitives at “stations,” which included houses, churches, and businesses, and discreetly move them to the next station as soon as time and safety permitted.
With this history in mind, Whitehead’s novel transforms the real-life Underground Railroad into a true subway system, with routes connecting the southernmost states of the United States to Canada.
For its conductors and passengers, Whitehead’s Railroad is as hazardous for Cora and her companions as the real-life routes were for enslaved people and those who assisted them in their emancipation.
During the Underground Railroad, the slave catcher who was hired to bring Cora back to the Randall farm plays an important role. Ridgeway was unable to locate Cora’s mother, Mabel, after she escaped from Randall, and he sees Cora’s recovery as an opportunity to make up for his previous mistakes. He is introduced immediately after Cora and Caesar begin their journey north, and he catches Cora on multiple occasions throughout the novel, finally stopping when she abandons him to die on an Underground Railroad platform in Indiana at the end of the story.
Among the features of that system were organized and armed nightly patrols, as well as legal responsibilities for white residents to hold and report any unknown Black person they came across.
As a result, the slave patrol system paved the way for the post-Civil War rise of the Ku Klux Klan — who figure in The Underground Railroad as the night riders Cora sees in North Carolina — and for the establishment of police agencies across the country.
The history of South Carolina is intricately intertwined with the history of slavery in the United States of America. Early American slave trade routes passed via Charleston, South Carolina, which served as a major hub for the kidnapping, purchasing, and selling of Black and Indigenous people. It was designated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and it has been in operation as the Old Slave Mart Museum since 2007. The Old Slave Mart Museum is housed in Charleston’s Old Slave Mart, which is commonly thought to be the only remaining slave auction site in the state.
- When it joined the Confederacy in February 1861, it was the location of the opening fight of the United States Civil War, which took place in April of that year when the South Carolina militia opened fire on Union forces stationed at Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor.
- Upon arriving at their first station on the railroad, Cora and Caesar are surprised to discover that the state government has purchased all enslaved people and provided them with paying jobs, housing and medical treatment.
- Although the living circumstances of enslaved people in the novel’s depiction of South Carolina aren’t based on truth, all of the atrocities committed against Black people in the state are.
- The alternative to living without, as many of her new neighbors have chosen, is to take on debt in the form of “scrip,” which was a primitive type of shop credit that was popular in the 1800s.
- In South Carolina’s working class, textile mills were a major employment from the late nineteenth century through the mid-20th century, especially during the Great Depression.
- What was left over was almost never provided to them in cash.
- As a result of finding that the state of South Carolina is forcefully sterilizing Black people and utilizing them for medical research, Cora resolves to flee.
- The statute that made such sterilizations possible remained on the books until 1985, and South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges issued a public apology for “decades of sorrow and anguish inflicted by eugenics” in 2003, according to the Associated Press.
- The Post and Courier reported in 2017 that Dr.
J. Marion Sims, dubbed “South Carolina’s most infamous physician” for his experiments on enslaved women in the 1840s, performed up to 30 unanesthetized vaginal surgeries on each of his victims and kept them at his makeshift hospital for the duration of their treatment, which could last for years.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is a very different story, where being Black has been rendered functionally illegal as a result of a combination of legislative and extralegal efforts. In order to escape being discovered by night riders—white proto-Klansmen who prowl the streets in search of Black people to harass, abuse, and even murder—she is forced to take refuge in the attic of a white couple’s home. In the 1860 census, there were 30,000 free Black people residing in North Carolina, second only to the population of neighboring Virginia, which had 58,000 free Black people.
However, the state soon passed sweeping restrictions to control when a slaveholder could free an enslaved person.
During the first year after the conclusion of the Civil War, former Confederate states began drafting “Black codes,” which were a collection of legislation that restricted the rights of African-Americans.
The Thirteenth Amendment permitted — and continues to permit — governments to compel jailed prisoners to work for no compensation.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is an entirely different story, where being Black has been rendered essentially illegal as a result of a combination of legislative and extralegal actions. In order to escape being discovered by night riders—white proto-Klansmen who prowl the streets in search of Black people to harass, abuse, and even murder—forced she’s to take refuge in the attic of a white couple’s home in order to remain undetected. 30,000 free Black people were residing in North Carolina at the time of the 1860 census, second only to the neighboring state of Virginia, which had 58,000 persons.
In North Carolina, those who were unable to pay feared being re-enslaved if they did not leave the state.
According to a history of North Carolina’s Black Code, which was passed in 1866 and “denied blacks the right to vote, serve on juries, and testify against whites in court; provided for the apprenticing of young blacks to their former owners; established capital punishment for blacks convicted of raping white women; attempted to restrict their movement into the state; and prohibited them from owning or carrying firearms or other weapons unless they obtained a license one year before the purchase,” In other southern states, such as Mississippi and South Carolina, similar laws were established that obliged Black people to work — frequently under conditions that were essentially indistinguishable from those they had faced before the Civil War — or face jail.
In accordance with the Thirteenth Amendment, states were permitted to require inmates to work for free, and this practice continues today.
The over-policing of Black inhabitants in many former slave states became a commercial strategy since states could rent out persons from within their prison systems.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is an entirely different story, where being Black has been rendered functionally illegal as a result of both legislative and extralegal tactics. In order to escape being discovered by night riders—white proto-Klansmen who prowl the streets in search of Black people to harass, abuse, and even murder—forced she’s to take refuge in the attic of a white couple’s home. North Carolina had 30,000 free Black people living in the state in 1860, second only to neighboring Virginia, which had 58,000.
Those who were unable to pay ran the possibility of being re-enslaved if they stayed in North Carolina.
North Carolina’s Black Code, which was passed in 1866, “denied blacks the right to vote, serve on juries, and testify against whites in court; provided for the apprenticing of young blacks to their former owners; established capital punishment for blacks convicted of raping white women; attempted to restrict their movement into and out of the state; and prohibited them from owning or carrying firearms or other weapons unless they obtained a license one year before the purchase,” according to a history of In other southern states, such as Mississippi and South Carolina, similar laws were adopted that obliged Black people to work — frequently in conditions that were practically identical from those they faced before the Civil War — or else face jail.
According to the Thirteenth Amendment, governments have the authority to force detained prisoners to work for free, and this has continued to be the case.
Colson Whitehead tells the story behind the ‘Underground Railroad’
While in fourth grade, Colson Whitehead heard about the Underground Railroad, an initiative to assist slaves in the nineteenth century in their journey from slavery to freedom through a network of people, routes, and houses. Whitehead was under the impression that the railroad was a real railroad, with trains surreptitiously running on rails in subterranean tunnels to transport slaves to freedom, which was not the case. His teacher corrected him, but the image of the incident remained in his memory.
- According to him, the plot would have a protagonist who would go north on a true subterranean train, stopping in each state along the route and encountering some fresh adventure.
- Although the concept intrigued him, he was terrified by it and didn’t feel he was ready to explore it in a novel, either from a technical or emotional aspect.
- Each time, he came to the conclusion that he was not yet prepared to do honor to the subject.
- When he began thinking about his next novel three years ago, he finally had the courage to share his thoughts with people.
- The answer was overwhelmingly positive and convincing: it was time to start writing the manuscript.
- Among many other distinctions, the book was named the winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence from the American Library Association, as well as a pick for Oprah Winfrey’s elite book club.
The lecture took place at the Lecture Hall of the James Branch Cabell Library.
An actual railroad, underground
It is the story of Cora, a teenage slave who escapes from her Georgia plantation with her companion, Caesar, and travels north via an underground railway system composed of tracks and tunnels, as told by Whitehead in his novel The Underground Railroad. Cora and Caesar are pursued by a merciless slave-catcher throughout their journey, and they must overcome a lot of obstacles and hazards. Whitehead employs a huge cast of people and alternates between a selection of them in order to convey their viewpoints and inner lives, while never losing sight of Cora’s horrific escape from the house.
- Jones’ “The Known World,” and Charles Johnson’s “Middle Passage” before entering into his own work.
- Toni Morrison is “an extraordinary intellect,” he stated, adding that he “can’t really compete with that.” “It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about; all that matters is that you have something unique to say about the subject,” he said.
- During the course of writing the novel, Whitehead discovered that he became increasingly obsessed with making a work that was sufficient to approximate the experiences that his ancestors and other slaves had gone through.
- As a result of the subject matter, the book is cruel, although Whitehead maintains that it represents “just a ten-millionth of one percent of what they truly went through.” “I knew that this was something my family had to go through,” Whitehead added.
- I have no idea what they were working on, how they lived, or how they suffered.
- The bigger concern was the combination of the fear of losing my influence and the fear of attempting to portray the actual reality and severity of what my family went through.”
‘In some ways, we haven’t come far’
Whitehead claims that if he had written the work when he was younger, the outcome would have been drastically different. For example, the fanciful aspects would have been larger and displayed more prominently in the front if the changes had been made. He said that one of the states was initially intended to take place in the future. The spectacular was instead turned down from “a Spinal Tappian 11 down to 1,” as he put it. The train has shifted from being the focal point of the plot to becoming a vital instrument for transporting Cora from one state to another.
In fact, “the final 20 pages are the greatest writing I’ve ever done,” says the author.
His observations of the parallels have grown stronger since then, and he has begun to recognize certain justifications that slaveowners and slavecatchers used for their harsh, heavy-handed practices — even when dealing with freed blacks — in the language that is used today to justify race-based discriminatory practices.
“In some aspects, we haven’t progressed much,” he said.
Early forays into writing
In addition to talking about his current work, Whitehead reflected on his childhood and the route that lead him to becoming an author, frequently with the shrewd timing of a seasoned stand-up comic, which was a treat for the audience. “I was a little bit of a shut-in,” he recounted of his upbringing in New York City. I would have wanted to have been born as a sickly child, but that did not turn out to be the case. Whenever you read a biography of someone such as James Joyce, it will mention that they were a sickly child who was forced to retire into a realm of imagination.
Instead, I just didn’t care for going out in the cold.” Even as a kid, Whitehead saw the allure of a career in writing.
‘In sixth grade, I realized that writing X-Men or Spiderman comic books might be a rewarding career.’ If you were a writer, you could work from the comfort of your own home, without having to dress or interact with others.
In his own words, “I really wanted to write the black “Shining” or the black “Salem’s Lot,” as Whitehead put it.
That’s essentially what I intended to do.” As he broadened his reading interests, Whitehead came across writers who were able to incorporate elements of genre into literary fiction in a way that he found exciting and that drew strong connections to the science fiction and horror that he had grown up reading.
According to him, these authors were just as much a part of the fantastic as any other genre writer.
Although Whitehead considered himself a writer in college, he didn’t actually sit down and write anything, which is obviously an important part of the process, according to Whitehead.
Finally, I summoned up the energy to compose two five-page epics, which I used as auditions for creative writing workshops, for which I was rejected by both of the institutions where I applied.
‘I got back to work’
Following graduation from college, Whitehead worked for five years at the Village Voice, a New York-based alternative newspaper. Growing Pains” and “Who’s the Boss?” were the seasons finales of two television sitcoms that he wrote about for his first published piece of writing. He feels certain that his essay was “the definitive piece” on those two occurrences, and he expressed his confidence in his article. Eventually, Whitehead found the courage to return to writing fiction. His debut novel, “I’m Movin’ In,” was the narrative of a “Gary Coleman-esque” kid star of a successful sitcom, which was based on a true story.
They all declined to participate.
According to Whitehead, “you are a microbe in the buttocks of an elephant, simply trying to get the elephant’s attention.” As he reviewed the mountain of rejection letters he had received, Whitehead reflected about his future as a writer.
He then went on to create a scenario in which being a writer for him could be traced back to the first Neanderthal who wondered “hunting and collecting, gathering and hunting.” It was a hilarious detour that Whitehead used to illustrate his point.
Are these the whole total of my experiences in this life?” The fact that no one approved of what I was doing didn’t matter.” “I didn’t have a choice,” Whitehead said. “As a result, I returned to work. “And the second time around, everything went better.”
Subscribe to VCU News
Subscribe to VCU News at newsletter.vcu.edu to have a selection of stories, videos, images, news snippets, and event listings delivered to your inbox on a regular basis.
Colson Whitehead: ‘To deal with this subject with the gravity it deserved was scary’
In the midst of writing a novel about the digital economy, Colson Whitehead was struck by the phantom of an old thought. Despite the fact that the 47-year-old had been working as a critic for the Village Voice since his twenties and has subsequently produced five novels and two non-fiction works, the author was in what he describes as “the constantly melancholy attitude” that is his default setting while writing. In his words, “I normally have two or three ideas flying around in my head.” “During my spare time, the one I end up thinking about the most is the one I end up pursuing,” says the author.
- The novel Whitehead eventually wrote was The Underground Railroad, which tells the narrative of Cora, a 15-year-old slave who escapes from a plantation in Georgia through the use of the Underground Railroad.
- The rights to the show have been purchased by Barry Jenkins, the director of the Academy Award-winning filmMoonlight, and Whitehead has experienced a makeover over the past six months as a result.
- So that’s something fresh, and it’s a wonderful feature.” Will the gloomy mood return once more?
- “I’m assuming that once I get into a new book, my body temperature will return to its normal average.” However, I have been thoroughly enjoying it.
Putting money down for my children’s college education, purchasing new clothing, and generally walking around in a pleasant attitude are some of my plans.” At a cafe near Whitehead’s home in midtown Manhattan, where he lives with his wife, Julie Barer (also a literary agent), and their little son, who is three years old, we talk about his writing.
- As one of four children of wealthy entrepreneurs, Whitehead grew up in Manhattan with his mother and father.
- He and his brother occupied a position of luxury that was deemed so inaccessible to African Americans that the parents of white students began to wonder whether he and his brother were indeed African kings.
- “Posh,” he says, referring to the word for “posh.” “Upscale; bourgeois ideals,” says the author.
- The Hamptons were a little too wealthy for me after I went to college, and they didn’t seem to match the principles I was adopting in my late teens, so I moved away.
- He laughs as he recalls his discovery of the restaurant after September 11, 2001: “it was a wonderful, quiet spot to hang out.” Success on a very different level.
- Photograph courtesy of PR Whitehead’s parents were the owners of an executive recruiting agency, and they were less than thrilled when he declared his wish to pursue a writing career.
- He had been a “goody-goody” up until he got to Harvard, according to Whitehead, and had fulfilled all of his parents’ expectations of him.
- Then he went to college and changed his mind.
- Irritatingly, he says, “I was available to hang around.” “At the time, the Department of English was a highly orthodox institution.
- So I would enroll in courses in the theatre department – not for performing, but for studying plays – as well as in the African American studies department, which at the time was in a state of disarray, prior to the arrival of Henry Louis Gates.
- I had a game of cards.
But it was there that I first met James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon, as well as a slew of other great authors and works that I continue to turn to for inspiration and structure today.” In 2014, Whitehead published The Noble Hustle, a poker memoir that was adapted from a magazine piece based on the seven days he spent in Las Vegas participating in the World Series of Poker.
- It boasts one of the finest subtitles ever: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, to name a few examples.
- “It’s a new elevator, newly pressed to the tracks, and it’s not built to fall this rapidly,” Whitehead writes.
- John Updike and Stephen King are among the authors of commercial literary fiction, as are Norman Mailer and Judith Krantz.
- So that meant reading Tom Wolfe and The Bell Jar, as well as horror and comic books – all of which inspired me to create.
- Her books were always released on the 10th of December, so we knew exactly what to purchase her for Christmas every year.
- To be really honest, that felt like a lot to me.
When my first book was eventually published and they were able to hold it in their hands and read reviews of it, they finally stopped nagging me to find a “real job.” The concept for The Underground Railroad came to Whitehead quite early in his career – in 2000, just after the publication of his first book.
- According to Whitehead, those difficult years were instructional.
- However, if you were in the paper, you were able to write for a variety of areas, and they were willing to give you a fair go provided you were in the building on a daily basis and underfoot.
- “Even if it turned out to be dumb.” It was clear that his teenage self-assurance had its limits.
- He was certain that he intended to write about the conduits that slaves used to escape from farms in the southern United States to those in the northern United States.
- His main character, he believed, would be a young and unmarried man, as he himself was at the time of writing.
- The notion “seemed like a decent idea when I came up with it in 2000,” he recalls, “but I didn’t think I could pull it off at the time.” “I didn’t consider myself to be a good enough writer.
- As a result, I steered clear of it.
And then, a few of years ago, I began to wonder if perhaps the frightening book was the one you were intended to be reading.” The heroine was no longer a guy in his mid-20s, but a teenage girl named Cora, who had followed in her mother’s footsteps as a runaway.
In this section, Whitehead concentrates on the relationships between slaves, which are typically romanticized in more superficial representations of slavery.
And that include thinking about people who have been traumatized, brutalized, and dehumanized throughout their whole lives, as well.
Everyone is going to be fighting for the one additional mouthful of breakfast in the morning, fighting for the one extra piece of property they can get their hands on.
Cora is a fictional character created by author Charles Dickens.
Those two incidents, in my opinion, said volumes about who she was and what she would do to protect herself.” While researching for the book, Whitehead spent a significant amount of time combing through oral history archives, in particular the 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, at a time when the last survivors of slavery were in their 90s, which is incredible considering their age.
He claims that the information he received about slavery was pitifully inadequate while he was in school.
I believe things have improved significantly.
Picture taken by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME Whitehead also desired to write about parents and children in a more generalized manner.
Cora’s passion is fueled by her affection for and rage at her mother, Mabel.
And both of those factors distort Cora’s perspective and cause her to behave in a variety of ways throughout the novel.
What happened to Mabel is the book’s big shock, and the tension around it is what pushes most of the story’s plot forward.
Answer: Of course he did not feel uncomfortable.
Although the stakes were high in this novel – if she was detected, she would be put to death – I believe it necessitated a different approach than in some other works due to the nature of the situation.
Moreover, I believe that the narrative, like comedy or the type of narrator you employ, is simply a tool that you employ for the appropriate story at the right moment.” Whitehead is recharging his batteries right now.
He’s not in a rush at all.
“I take pleasure in my downtime.
Even when I’m not working, I put in my time, but I believe my wife was concerned when we first started dating that I sat around all the time.” And after that, what? He cracks a grin. “And then the self-loathing comes in, and I have to get back to work,” says the author.