Biography

 



Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard College, he started working at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books, and music.


His first novel, The Intuitionist, concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and a winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award.


John Henry Days followed in 2001, an investigation of the steel-driving man of American folklore. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. The novel received the Young Lions Fiction Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.


The Colossus of New York is a book of essays about the city. It was published in 2003 and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.


Apex Hides the Hurt (2006) is a novel about a "nomenclature consultant" who gets an assignment to name a town, and was a recipient of the PEN/Oakland Award.


Sag Harbor, published in 2009, is a novel about teenagers hanging out in Sag Harbor, Long Island during the summer of 1985. It was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.


Zone One (2011), about post-apocalyptic New York City, was a New York Times Bestseller.


The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death, a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker, will be published in 2014.


Colson Whitehead's reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in a number of publications, such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's and Granta.


He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, A Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.




Books



THE INTUITIONIST


Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Voices Award

PEN/Hemingway Award Finalist



"The freshest racial allegory since Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and

Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye."

--Walter Kirn, Time


"Ingenious and starkly original...Literary reputations may not always

rise and fall as predictably as elevators, bit if there's any justice in the

world of fiction, Colson Whitehead's should be heading toward the upper floors."

--The New York Times Book Review


"Magical. . . . The Intuitionist ranks alongside Catch-22, V, The Bluest Eye and

other groundbreaking first novels. . . . Whitehead shares Heller's sense of the

absurd, Pynchon's operatic expansiveness and Morrison's deconstruction

of race and racism."  --San Francisco Chronicle


"The most engaging literary sleuthing you'll read this year. . . . What makes the novel so extraordinary is the ways in which Whitehead plays with notions of race."

--Newsweek


"Whitehead's prose is graceful and often lyrical, and his elevator underworld is a complex, lovingly realized creation."

--The New Yorker

 

"The Intuitionist is the story of a love affair with the steel and stone, machinery and architecture of the city. It's not a pretty love, but a working-class passion for the stench of humanity that its heroine, Lila Mae Watson, has made her own. But as always with love there is betrayal. This extraordinary novel is the first voice in a powerful chorus to come."

--Walter Mosley







JOHN HENRY DAYS


Young Lions Award

Anisfield Wolf Book Award

Pulitzer Prize Finalist


L.A. Times Book Award Finalist

National Book Critics Circle Finalist

New York Times Editor’s Choice

ALA Black Caucus Honor


A narrative tour de force that astonishes on almost every page.” —Time


“Does what writing should do; it refreshes our sense of the world. . . .

An ambitious, finely chiseled work.” --John Updike, The New Yorker


“John Henry Days is funny and wise and sumptuously written...compelling.”

--Jonathan Franzen, The New York Times Book Review


“[Whitehead] takes on a multitude of issues with a rich and probing imagination.

His reputation is likely to soar.” — Ishmael Reed, The Washington Post Book World


“A feast for famished readers.” — Newsweek








THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK


New York Times Notable Book



“A tour de force.” —Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review


“Pitch-perfect. . . . Utterly authentic. . . . The Colossus of New York

is quite simply the most delicious 13 bites of the Big Apple I’ve taken

in ages.” --Grace Lichenstein, The Washington Post


“A love letter to New York. . . . Colossus illuminates innumerable little

moments that define the city.” —San Francisco Chronicle


“The cheapest, most stylish ticket to the Big Apple between two covers

. . . .It’s as if Whitehead’s scooped his pen into the collective unconscious

of everyone who’s ever visited New York.” —Pittsburg Post-Gazette


“A revelatory ode to Gotham. . . . Whitehead’s engaged eyes and precise

prose show us the small details we overlook and the large ones we fail

to absorb.” —The Miami Herald


“Smooth, dazzling, evocative. . . . [Whitehead] writes wonderfully, commanding a lush, poetic, mellifluous prose instrument.” –The Nation


“[Whitehead is] a scientist of metropolitan encounters, he surveys places where the masses collide, knitting together hundreds of observations and calculations that usually remain unspoken. . . . The musical prose thrums with urban momentum.” —The Village Voice


“[Whithead’s] New York, like Walt Whitman’s or Thomas Pynchon’s or Woody Allen’s, is full of incantatory potential. Even the subway, ordinary, noisy, gruddy inevitability, becomes a ferry to the Underworld.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution







APEX HIDES THE HURT


PEN/Oakland Award

New York Times Notable Book


“Wickedly funny. . . . Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of

his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists.”

—The Boston Globe



“A brilliant, witty, and subtle novel, written in a most engaging style, with

tremendous aptness of language and command of plot.”

—The New York Review of Books



“Terrific. . . . Inspired. . . . Engaging, exuding energy. . . . Will have you

nodding in wonder.” —The Miami Herald



“Dazzling. . . . Gorgeous, expertly crafted sentences. . . . An eloquent

novel about racial identity in America.” —Newsweek



“Brilliant. . . . Exhilarating. . . . What keeps you reading this critique of

language is its language, and our perverse delight in the ingenious abuse

of words.” —The New York Times





SAG HARBOR

Finalist, PEN/Faulkner Award

Here is a video my publisher made of me talking about the book.


The New Yorker published an excerpt their 2008 Winter Fiction Issue.

I did a brief Q & A with the fiction editor of the magazine. It answers this

important question:


Q: How is Benji different from you?

A: I tend not to act or feel or talk in a way that would add anything

worthwhile to an extended work of fiction. I tend not to do things that

lend themselves to dramatic unity, aesthetic harmony, and narrative

discharge. My leitmotifs are crappy. I need an editor or someone of

artistic bent to shape my useless existence into something that would

interest other people. Also, I am a real person.


Here is an annotated map I did of Main Street Sag Harbor that appeared

in the Wall Street Journal.


Here is an early piece about Sag Harbor in The Daily Beast.


And a fun interview with TimeOut New York. “Fans of Whitehead's deeply funny and imaginative novels The Intuitionist, John Henry Days and Apex Hides the Hurt—rife as they are with satirical wit and sterling prose—won't be disappointed. But here too is the personal touch of a writer looking back and finding the past still very much alive.”


Publisher’s Weekly gives it a starred review, calling Sag Harbor “a funny and touching story.”


Booklist gives it a starred review as well: “MacArthur fellow Whitehead follows three inventive, satirical, and reverberating novels with a classic entering-manhood tale framed within the summer of 1985... an unusually generous, wisely funny novel about good kids and a society’s muddled attempt to come of age.”


Library Journal says Sag Harbor contains “wonderful, evocative writing, as always, from Whitehead” and is “highly recommended” in a starred review.


Kirkus says it’s “Another surprise from an author who never writes the same novel twice...his warmest novel to date. Funniest as well.”


Bloomberg is very generous: “He can write sentences like nobody’s business, and the deepest satisfaction in this book full of them is his crafty turn of phrase.” Thanks Bloomberg.


The Philadelphia City Paper is very kind and says “True to Colson Whitehead’s reputation, his fourth novel is lyrical and hilarious.”


“By acknowledging that adolescence’s indignities are universal, and that the search for self is endless, Sag Harbor brings this truth home” -- Vanity Fair




ZONE ONE


Harper’s did a nice interview with me that lays out the heart of the book.There is an excerpt on their site, and the first 20

pages or so are on Scribd.


Here is a list of movies that inspired the book.


Esquire called it “The best book of the fall,” saying that “Whitehead brilliantly reformulates an old-hat genre to ask the epidemic question of a teetering history — the question about the possibility of survival.”


Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review: Publishers Weekly  says: “Whitehead dumpster dives genre tropes, using what he wants and leaving the rest to rot, turning what could have been another zombie-pocalypse gore-fest into the kind of smart, funny, pop culture–filled tale that would make George Romero proud.”


Kirkus is also nice, saying:  “[H]e sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date. Though there’s enough chomp-and-spurt gorefest to satiate fans of the format, Whitehead transforms the zombie novel into an allegory of contemporary Manhattan (and, by extension, America)...”


And Booklist says that “This diabolically smart, covertly sensitive, ruminative, and witty zombie nightmare prods us to think about how we dehumanize others, how society tramples and consumes individuals, how flimsy our notions of law and order are, and how easily deluded and profoundly vulnerable humankind is. A deft, wily, and unnerving blend of pulse-elevating action and sniper-precise satire.”


Library Journal writes: “MacArthur fellow Whitehead, known for his literary paeans to New York city and environs (The Colossus of New York; Sag Harbor), has fashioned a relentlessly bleak and decaying Big Apple made palatable by his biting wit and dark humor. Both gruesome and intelligent, this satiric take on the postapocalyptic horror genre offers the most literary nod to zombie-ism since Mary Shelley”


But the real question on your mind is: slow zombies or fast zombies? Well, I like my zombies like I like my women: slow and implacable.