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“I’ve been writing about [institutionalised racism] over the last couple of years, I’ve also been living with these periodic conversations about police brutality. They get very loud, and then grow quiet again, and then become louder when something else happens. In a way, that’s been my whole life.”

A double Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who writes in many genres.


Colson Whitehead is the author of eight novels and two non-fiction books. They include John Henry Days, whose protagonist, a cynical African American freelancing journalist, is eventually humbled by the story of John Henry, the hammer man who, according to legend, in the 1870s beat the New Age steam drill to a contest of speed, only to fall dead.

Whitehead has also received a McCarthy Fellowship, commonly known as the ‘Genius Award’. His novel, The Underground Railroad, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 is a re-imagining of the network that supported the escape of enslaved people which, in Whitehead’s conception, was on an actual railroad under the ground.

Whitehead’s novel, The Nickel Boys, set in a time of Jim Crow racist southern laws, at a reform school, also won a Pulitzer Prize. His latest book, Harlem Shuffle, is a zinging wise-guy noir thriller. Set in 1960s Harlem it centers on a small-time crook, described as ‘only a little bit bent’, who becomes embroiled in a heist that goes wrong.