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Hamptons Life

Apr 11, 2017 11:00 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Colson Whitehead Awarded Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

Apr 20, 2017 4:29 PM

Novelist Colson Whitehead, who has roots in Sag Harbor and has even named one of his books after the village, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on Monday.

The award is for his widely acclaimed book “The Underground Railroad,” which won the National Book Award for Fiction and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

Oprah Winfrey said of the novel, “Every now and then a book comes along that reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in, and stays forever. This is one. It’s a tour de force, and I don’t say that lightly.”

The Pulitzer Prize board also spoke very highly of the book, stating the prize was being awarded to Mr. Whitehead, “for a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

In the novel, Mr. Whitehead imagines the Underground Railroad—the network that helped American slaves escape the South to reach free states in the North and Canada—as an actual railroad with engineers, conductors, tracks and tunnels. The story centers on Cora, a slave who flees a cotton plantation in Georgia and sets out to find the railroad, all while being hunted by a slave catcher.

Fred Volkmer, the Southampton Press book reviewer, wrote last year, “‘The Underground Railroad’ has a weight and a gravity that Mr. Whitehead has only hinted at in his previous books.”

This is Mr. Whitehead’s first Pulitzer win. His novel “John Henry Days” earned him a nomination for the fiction prize in 2002.

The Pulitzer Prize board stated that the fiction prize is awarded “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life,” and it comes with $15,000.

Mr. Whitehead will appear in the Fridays at Five series at Hampton Library in Bridgehampton on July 21.

Also of interest to Sag Harbor and farther afield: Playwright Lynn Nottage won her second Pulitzer Prize for Drama on Monday. Her play “Intimate Apparel” will be staged at the Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts in July. Her first Pulitzer win came in 2009 for “Ruined,” and her latest is for “Sweat.”

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