Beyond Bestsellers: Colson Whitehead

by Marina M.

Colson Whitehead was publishing long before the critical acclaim and runaway success of his book The Underground Railroad (soon to be in production as a limited series for Amazon). And with the follow up of The Nickel Boys you might assume that Whitehead’s back catalog consists solely of historical fiction with African-American characters. But that is definitely not the case.

I’m not sure that I’ve seen a more eclectic writer. At least one that writes everything under the same name. He’s written more than one historical literary novel, a couple that fall under the satirical humor genre, a poker-centric memoir, a novel featuring Afrofuturism (for a frame of reference), and even a post-apocalyptic zombie novel. But he remains fairly consistent as an Own Voices writer. Exceptions made for the zombie book. Because I don’t think Whitehead is actually a zombie hunter. Or a zombie.

Narrowing Things Down

Due to the variance of his published works I am limiting my focus of suggested titles to historical literary fiction. You can find additional titles that cover the majority of Whitehead’s wide-ranging themes in the list below.

All month long you will have unlimited access to this digital title which shares certain aspects featured in Colson Whitehead’s books. Similar to his African American historical fiction, Gail Lumet Buckley, in The Black Calhouns, shares what amounts to a collection of mini memoirs based on the Black experiences of her family in different locations over several generations. From the time of Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era, from Atlanta to New York, Buckley (daughter to Lena Horne) weaves a tale of daily domestic life in a middle-class family. From pursuing their education and ambitions to their squabbles and successes, and just living their daily existence, struggling to survive and thrive in a country where racism, riots, and lynching were a regular occurrence.

More Similar Options

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore: Not only does this book feature historical and literary writing similar to Whitehead’s two most recent novels, but it also hints at Afrofuturism with a bit of magical realism. Set in the early years of Liberia’s founding by former African-American slaves, we meet three characters with supernatural gifts. These gifts bring them together when they arrive in Monrovia and their magical forces help to form this new country.

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow: This debut novel by Winslow has tones of the small-town support system that shows up in Whitehead’s Sag Harbor. A culturally diverse and fleshed-out group of characters makes the small town of West Mills come alive. Over the 40-year span of this story, local teacher Knot, has a series of romantic and familial difficulties made easier by the support of neighbor Otis Lee Loving and his wife, Pep. Their friendship holds strong through years of war, civil rights, and local town secrets. Their timeline is portrayed with writing that is at once poetic as well as full of heart and humor.

Sharing Your Finds

Don’t forget to share how you’re reading Beyond Colson Whitehead. Give us some titles in the comments below. Or create a BiblioCommons list and share that link in the comments. Happy Reading!

Beyond Bestsellers: Colson Whitehead

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2 responses to “Beyond Bestsellers: Colson Whitehead”

  1. Kathy Smargiassi says:

    Justina Ireland’s “Dread Nation”!

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