Colson Whitehead to Deliver American Masters Lecture

Members News

Colson Whitehead, the American novelist whose bestselling book, Underground Railroad, won the National Book Award in 2016 and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2017, will deliver the Lackawanna County Library System’s 2018 American Masters Lecture on Thursday, November 15, 7 PM, Scranton Cultural Center.

Tickets are now available online and at Lackawanna County libraries.

Whitehead, 48, has had six novels and two works of non-fiction published. In addition to the National Book and Pulitzer awards, he has also received a MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called “Genius Award”) and a Guggenheim Fellowship.


But it is The Underground Railroad that catapulted Whitehead into the ranks of leading American authors.

The book follows a young African-American woman named Cora in her flight from slavery. Whitehead created a physical railroad that runs in underground tunnels as a metaphor that moves Cora on a journey with stops that illuminate the story of the slave-era South as it was experienced by the victims of slavery.

It was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction by the American Library Association. It was also a New York Times #1 Bestseller.

“We are delighted to be able to announce that Colson Whitehead will deliver the American Masters Lecture in 2018,” said Mary Garm, library system administrator.

“His books tell stories that are uniquely American in a voice that is strong and courageous,” she added. “He is also a wonderful speaker. He will add to the rich tradition that has been established here for offering people in our community the opportunity to hear some of the best minds in America.”

Whitehead’s other novels are: The Intuitionist, a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award; John Henry Days, a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist; Apex Hides the Hurt; Sag Harbor; and Zone One.

His non-fiction books are The Colossus of New York, a history of that city; and The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death, a book about the World Series of Poker, which Whitehead, a non-gambler, competed in to fulfill a magazine writing assignment.

He has also written non-fiction articles for a number of leading periodicals including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Granta, and Harper’s.

A New York City native, he attended Trinity School in Manhattan and graduated from Harvard University.

In addition to his writing, he has taught at Princeton University, New York University, the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, Wesleyan University, and been writer-in-residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming.

Previous American Masters Lecture speakers have included historians Douglas Brinkley and James McPherson, author, journalist and film maker Sebastian Junger, author, actress, social critic and humorist Fran Lebowitz, theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku, undersea explorer and Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard, and legendary Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith.

Last year’s speaker was Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine and author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, a book that explores why some ideas take off, while others disappear.

According to Mrs. Garm, tickets for the event will be free.