NEW YORK (AP) — Even sheltering in place, Colson Whitehead has had an eventful year.
Whitehead became the first fiction writer to win Pulitzers for back to back novels, “Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” which won the Pulitzer in May and comes out in paperback this week. He also managed to finish a crime novel, with the working title “Harlem Shuffle,” that he had begun more than a year ago.
“I was on the downward slope of the book when the quarantine started,” said Whitehead during a recent telephone interview. “For the first eight weeks, most of the time was spent looking after the kids, making sure the Wi-Fi was on so they could do their schooling. Then I finished the draft of the book — not sure how it happened. You just have to find the time and not get too distracted to do the final leg of the book.”
Whitehead, 50, who has been staying in Long Island with his wife and two children. He has been a published author since his acclaimed debut novel, “The Intuitionist,” came out in 1999, and he has well established himself for his vivid prose style and imagination. “Zone One,” published in 2011, is speculative fiction that depicts a pandemic-stricken New York City, a narrative which became painfully timely during the coronavirus outbreak. “Underground Railroad” combined historical detail from the 19th century and a unique twist: Whitehead imagined the network for bringing runaway slaves North to their freedom as a literal railroad.
“The Nickel Boys” stays closer to the facts: It’s based on a notorious Florida boarding school from the Jim Crow era that brutalized and sometimes murdered the kids sent there. One protagonist is a promising teenager who lands in the Nickel school after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit.