Colson Whitehead's post-election reading list
H Is for Hawk

H Is for Hawk

What Whitehead had to say about this bestselling memoir: occasionally "you see someone find a perfect subject, who has obviously found the perfect voice for who they are." After her father dies, McDonald stumbles upon a unique way to assuage her grief: she purchases and attempts to train an English goshawk with the deceptively quaint name Mabel. McDonald had been a falconer since she was a child, but her hawk is wild, unpredictable, irascible—as is her grief. Part memoir, part nature story: her tale is moving, poignant, and surprising. More info →
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Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

This novel, the first from short story author Saunders, doesn't come out till February 14, and Whitehead says to read it as soon as possible. This is a story about Lincoln, America's 16th president—kind of. The "bardo" of the title is a Tibetan concept: it's a spiritual landscape—a kind of in-between place—where we are sent between physical lives. When Lincoln's son Willie was 11, he died of typhoid, plunging Lincoln into deep grief. Saunders uses this real event as a jumping-off point to explore the near-unbearable grief of an individual, linking it to the disarray of the country he leads, at the height of its Civil War, and imagines how Lincoln's despair changed the outcome of the war. The critics are loving this: I'm not sure if that makes me happy or nervous. A little of both, I think. More info →
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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

Whitehead didn't pointedly recommend his own book, but he did say it was timely. (Will it ever not be?) In this imaginative piece of historical fiction, the Underground Railroad of history becomes a subway—an actual locomotive, powered by coal and running on actual track below the surface. Whitehead drew inspiration from Gulliver's Travels and real-life heroine Harriet Jacobs for his story of Cora, a Georgia slave who sets out on a heroic quest to find freedom in the North. More info →
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