Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead talked with students from Benson Polytechnic High School and Grant High School on Thursday, September 24th. Whitehead answered questions from students on the Zoom call about writing full characters, his work in journalism, and how to adapt to writing in different genres (including zombie novels).
One student, Aanii, asked how Whitehead’s work at a newspaper impacted his fiction, and Whitehead told students that working with editor and having a first reader in mind was extremely helpful. His work at the Village Voice helped improve his confidence. Later, he said, “I learned that self-discipline is writing even if no one is waiting on something. The art is motivation.”
Forty-six people attended the event. Twelve students asked Whitehead questions, many of whom had recently read Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Underground Railroad. Student Jack asked about Whitehead’s inspiration for making a fictionalized aspect to the story in an otherwise realistic book. “When I was a kid, I thought it was a literal train,” Whitehead said. Whitehead spoke to doing lots of research before starting with the fantastic element of the novel. “I realize I was playing with reality so much that I wanted to start in a realistic place before I diverged. I wanted to get it right before I got it wrong.”
Leo, a student at Grant High School, asked Whitehead what inspired him to write. “If I could do something else, I would,” Whitehead said. “I would work as a music producer on a highly acclaimed but small television show.”
Thank you to our partners at Benson and Grant High Schools who made this event possible: Principal Curtis Wilson, Principal James McGee, Ilsa Bruer, Paige Battle, Mykhiel Deych, and Jon Carr.