The novel, The Underground Railroad, tells the story of a young slave girl named Cora on a cotton plantation in Georgia. A new slave to the plantation convinces her to run away on the Underground Railroad. The big twist for this novel is that the Underground Railroad is in fact a railroad. Yes, the slaves make their great escape on a train.
The 2016 novel has received lots of recognition. It is a New York Times Bestseller. It won a 2016 National Book Award, and it was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.
I was very excited when the New Orleans Public Library invited me to moderate a discussion with the novel’s author, Colson Whitehead. It was really cool to be able to interview someone about such a highly regarded novel after reading it myself.
Anyone can read the book, but I wanted to share some of the things I learned while chatting with Whitehead.
REVISITING AN OLD IDEA
My favorite fun fact was that Whitehead had the idea for this novel 16 years ago but pushed it aside. He wanted to wait until he was a better writer to tackle it. He went on to write several other novels before bringing the idea to his wife and agent, who convinced him to follow through with it.
HE DID SOME RESEARCH IN NEW ORLEANS
Whitehead says he based some parts of the novel off of Harriet Jacobs’ story. Turns out, he also visited some plantations in the New Orleans as part of his research. He mentioned Oak Alley and Southern Oaks specifically, making the audience laugh as he described feeling awkward about being the only black person on the tours besides the bus driver.
WHITEHEAD IS FUNNY & SARCASTIC
Despite this novel being a fictional account of slavery, it is still a very gruesome and dark story, which I appreciated because slavery was horrendous. Whitehead has a quirky humor and sarcastic wit that readers would never sense in the novel. He had the audience cracking up for the first half hour of the lecture until he moved onto reading from the book.
AMAZON MINISERIES ON THE WAY
The news wasn’t officially out yet, but as a treat to his audience, Whitehead revealed that the book is in the works to be turned into a miniseries for amazon. Congrats to Whitehead!