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Get personal with Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is married to Julie Barer, the founder of the publishing company Barer Literary. They have a daughter together and a daughter from Colson's previous marriage.
Other Books by Colson Whitehead
Did you know?
Oprah Winfrey chose The Underground Railroad for her book group in September 2016.
1. How does the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compare to other depictions in literature and film?
2. The scenes on Randall’s plantation are horrific—how did the writing affect you as a reader?
3. In North Carolina, institutions like doctor’s offices and museums that were supposed to help "black uplift" were corrupt and unethical. How do Cora’s challenges in North Carolina mirror what America is still struggling with today?
4. Cora constructs elaborate daydreams about her life as a free woman and dedicates herself to reading and expanding her education. What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?
5. "The treasure, of course, was the underground railroad…. Some might call freedom the dearest currency of all." How does this quote shape the story for you?
6. How does Ethel’s backstory, her relationship with slavery, and Cora’s use of her home affect you?
7. What are your impressions of John Valentine’s vision for the farm?
8. When speaking of Valentine’s Farm, Cora explains "Even if the adults were free of the shackles that held them fast, bondage had stolen too much time. Only the children could take full advantage of their dreaming. If the white men let them." What makes this so impactful both in the novel and today?
9. What do you think about Terrance Randall’s fate?
10. How do you feel about Cora’s mother’s decision to run away? How does your opinion of Cora’s mother change once you’ve learned about her fate?
11. Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader: if things are going well, you get comfortable before a sudden tragedy. What does this sense of fear do to you as you’re reading?
12. Who do you connect with most in the novel and why?
13. How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?
14. The book emphasizes how slaves were treated as property and reduced to objects. Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?
15. Why do you think the author chose to portray a literal railroad? How did this aspect of magical realism impact your concept of how the real underground railroad worked?
16. Does The Underground Railroad change the way you look at the history of America, especially in the time of slavery and abolitionism?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)
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The Underground Railroad by
Publication Date: 2016-08-02
A young slave makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead's conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor--engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state. Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey--hers is an odyssey through time as well as space.
Underground Airlines by
Publication Date: 2016-07-05
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred. A young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself. Victor works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. But his strange pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. Victor discovers secrets of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by
Publication Date: 2017-09-05
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn't lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. Other men complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, and the memories of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager. His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his sister's lives. She can't put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Leonie is tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother. When Michael is released from prison, Leonie and kids drive north to Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Publication Date: 2017-05-23
11 April 1982: a smell is coming down John Golding Road right alongside the boy-child, something attached to him, like a spirit but not quite. Ma Taffy is growing worried. She knows that something is going to happen. Something terrible is going to pour out into the world. But if she can hold it off for just a little bit longer, she will. So she asks a question that surprises herself even as she asks it, "Kaia, I ever tell you bout the flying preacherman?" Set in the backlands of Jamaica, Augustown is a magical and haunting novel of one woman's struggle to rise above the brutal vicissitudes of history, race, class, collective memory, violence, and myth.