Colson Whitehead had to wait to write 'Underground Railroad'

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 05:35:03 AM. In a searching and self-deprecating talk at a Chicago Humanities Festival event, Colson Whitehead accepts the 2017 Chicago Tribune Heartland Literary Prize for fiction for his 2016 novel 'The Underground Railroad.'
Colson Whitehead first had the idea for “The Underground Railroad,” his novel about slavery that melds magic realism with the brutal realities of that institution, decades ago. And while he says he was “self-satisfied” as a young man, he also knew enough to know that he shouldn’t try writing it then, as his second novel. “I was 30. I was not a good enough writer to pull it off,” he told some 900 people Saturday who came to hear him talk and see him accept the Chicago Tribune Heartland Literary Prize for fiction for the 2016 novel. In the intervening years — he is 48 now — the New York writer has published other novels, including “John Henry Days” and “Sag Harbor,” honed his craft and, most essentially, he suggested, developed the empathy and the maturity to do the story of “The Underground Railroad” justice. “Pretty snazzy,” he said, upon seeing the prize medal, one that joins the National Book Award for Fiction and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the collection of accolades for the novel. Oprah Winfrey tabbed it for her book club, and “Moonlighting” director Barry Jenkins will write and direct an adaptation, a TV series for Amazon. In conversation with Tribune columnist Mary Schmich at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Rubloff Auditorium as part of the 2017 Chicago Humanities Festival’s Fallfest, Whitehead made the hour zip by with reflections, alternately searching and self-deprecating, on his craft, particularly writing in the voice of a teenage girl; on exploring slavery in...Read more
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