Two-Time Pulitzer Winner Colson Whitehead to Speak Feb. 7
Celebrated American novelist Colson Whitehead, known for his unmatched breadth of subject matter and his profound, impactful novels that boldly confront the ills of society, will be the first Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
Whitehead, who authored internationally acclaimed novels The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, will present a public lecture at 6 p.m. on February 7 at the UAFS Stubblefield Center in conjunction with the WRDL Series and the university’s ReadThis! public literacy program. The event is free and open to the public, though tickets are required to ensure adequate seating.
“Colson Whitehead was an obvious albeit ambitious choice for UAFS in our inaugural WRDL lecture, for Whitehead is as celebrated as any living American author,” said Dr. Cammie Sublette, professor of English. “He is a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, and he has won the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the Kirkus Prize, and a MacArthur Genius Grant, and in 2020, he was awarded the Library of Congress’s Prize for American Fiction, the so-called “Lifetime Achievement Award.” He is the youngest person ever to receive it.”
Sublette, who serves as UAFS’s lead representative to the state Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecturer committee, partnered with Dr. Ann-Gee Lee, professor of English, Rhetoric, and Writing, and chair of the UAFS Read This Committee, to bridge the two organizations and bring a truly phenomenal author to the River Valley. “Dr. Lee was tenacious in her outreach to Whitehead’s agent and critical to securing his attendance,” said Sublette.
Along with his public lecture, Whitehead will join university students for an intimate craft talk, addressing complex topics in writing and providing the students the rare opportunity to connect with such a distinguished writer and ask questions about all aspects of his professional experience.
Throughout the spring semester, UAFS composition II classes will read Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, around which much of his February 7 talk will focus, and thanks to an Arkansas Humanities Council grant authored by Dr. Lee, the university will also supply 500 copies of the novel to school partners and reading groups across the River Valley.
The Nickel Boys earned Whitehead his second Pulitzer Prize in 2019, also notching the Kirkus Prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. Based on the real atrocities committed at the Dozier School, a Florida detention center for boys that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, the novel is a devastating and compelling read.
Whitehead’s first Pulitzer Prize was awarded for his 2016 New York Times bestseller, The Underground Railroad, which also claimed the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
The Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecturer Program was established in 1972 by friends of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. It assists the faculty at six University of Arkansas campuses in obtaining outstanding visiting lecturers to share ideas and drive public debate and cultural advancement. UAFS is the most recent university to join the group.
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