One of the most celebrated African-American novelists of our time, Colson Whitehead is now the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad. With six novels under his belt, Whitehead is known for his genre-bending stories that focus on race, class, commercialism, and American history. Whitehead was born in New York City in 1969 and grew up in Manhattan. He graduated from Harvard in 1991 and went on to write pop culture reviews and head the TV column for The Village Voice.
In 1999, Whitehead’s first novel, The Intuitionist, debuted to rave reviews and made many of the year’s “best of” lists. It won the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Voices Award and was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. The Intuitionist was Whitehead’s first foray into speculative writing. Whitehead’s next few novels were diverse. He tackled African-American folk hero John Henry in 2001’s John Henry Days and took on commercialism with Apex Hides the Hurt in 2006. 2011’s Zone One delved into a literary zombie apocalypse and hit The New York Times best seller list.
Whitehead’s 2016 novel, The Underground Railroad, is already a classic work of American historical fiction. It transforms our knowledge of the Underground Railroad into an actual subway system that transports runaway slaves out of pre-Civil War Georgia plantations. Whitehead’s masterwork of alt-history earned him both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since The Shipping News in 1993.
The Underground Railroad made Whitehead the literary star of 2016. It was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, earned the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and was chosen by Barack Obama for his summer reading list in 2016. The book has already been optioned for an Amazon series to be directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). Whitehead lives in New York City. His teaching positions have included stints at the University of Houston, Columbia University, and Princeton University. As of 2017, Whitehead is celebrating The Underground Railroad‘s success and looks forward to getting “back to work.”