“But if he didn’t read, he was a slave.” Colson Whitehead writes in his award-winning novel, The Underground Railroad.
In the year it was published, The Underground Railroad won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following year. Colson Whitehead’s reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper’s and Granta. He is the keynote speaker for the 2019 Portland Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP).
The Underground Railroad is a story about runaway slaves fighting for a better future. The tragedies and hardships faced in this novel are representative of years of atrocities. The novel tells of Cora, a black slave in 1800’s Georgia who decides to escape to the North. In this historical reimagining, the Underground Railroad is depicted as a real-life railway system, one Cora rides through chaotic Southern states filled with murder, torture, and racism.
It is difficult to discuss the importance of literature in times where many people no longer have bookshelves, a kitchen, or a bed to fall in asleep in. This is the reality with the Carr fire, consuming the homes and security of so many NorCal families. We are not immune to disaster or tragedy. However, looking at the past will always remain important. Books are a window: they teach us that even when there is no end in sight, people persist.
United, our community has demonstrated true caring and compassion. Shasta College, Foothill High School, Shasta High School, and other schools have offered their spaces to evacuees during this difficult time. Teachers, administrators, and students have provided support to victims. As we look towards a new school season, we must be active in creating community togetherness and serious in our pursuit of education.
Our local authors, professors, writers, and students provide a platform for engagement, awareness, and solidarity. I urge all community members to take advantage of the literary community here in Shasta County, even if only for a night.
You can find Colson Whitehead at Shasta College on October 16th at 7 pm. Whitehead will be the next guest speaker in The Community Speaker Series, a joint effort by The Shasta College Foundation, The McConnell Foundation, and KIXE-Channel 9. A book signing will take place immediately after the event. This event is free and open to the public.
Come join Colson Whitehead in a reading and discussion about the past. Together we can look towards a stronger future.
Shannon Koga is a poet and writer who spends her time wandering hiking trails. She has worked as an editor/journalist for The Lance, editor of the Ink Storm anthology, and more recently as the editorial assistant at UCR Magazine. She also served as a committee member for the Community Speaker Series in 2016. Her fiction and poetry appear in Underground Writers, Audeamus, and Mosaic. She is a recent college graduate.