Colson Whitehead Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Colson Whitehead has been hailed as one of the United States’ most talented and innovative young writers. As a child growing up in New York City, he decided that he wanted to be a novelist after reading Stephen King’s novels. Whitehead matriculated at Harvard University; after he was not accepted into Harvard’s creative writing seminars, he studied English and comparative literature. Upon receiving a B.A. in 1991, he became an editorial assistant at The Village Voice; he wrote music, television, and book reviews and eventually became the newspaper’s television editor. While working at The Village Voice, he met and married Natasha Stovall, a photographer and writer. Whitehead’s essays have appeared in other publications, such as The New York Times, Vibe, Spin, and Newsday.

Although Whitehead worked in San Francisco, where he wrote about Internet events, and taught in the University of Houston’s creative writing program during the spring semester for several years, he is a self-described lifelong New Yorker. He and his wife made their home in Brooklyn. On September 11, 2001, Whitehead and Stovall stood on a hill in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park and looked out on lower Manhattan. They watched the World Trade Center’s two towers burn and collapse after the terrorist attacks of that morning. One of Whitehead’s most eloquent and memorable essays, “Lost and Found,” (The New York Times, November 11, 2001), pays tribute to the Twin Towers, New York City, and memories.

Whitehead continues to write essays, yet he is best known for his fiction. In his first novel, The Intuitionist, he pits an urban department of elevator inspectors’ two contentious groups against each other: the Intuitionists and the Empiricists. The novel’s protagonist, Lila Mae Watson, is the first...

(The entire section is 767 words.)

Colson Whitehead Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Arch Colson Chipp Whitehead was born in Manhattan in New York City in 1969; he grew up in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn. He attended Trinity School and Harvard University, and after graduating from Harvard in 1991, he began a career in journalism as a pop-culture critic for The Village Voice. At first he wrote about books and music; later, he became the newspaper’s television columnist.

Whitehead first decided he wanted to be a writer of fiction when he was a child and began reading Stephen King’s books. While in college, he discovered the works of more authors who increased his desire to write, including the fiction of Thomas Pynchon and Ishmael Reed. In 1999, Whitehead published his first novel, The Intuitionist. His second novel, John Henry Days, followed in 2001. His next publication was the collection of essays The Colossus of New York, which appeared in 2003. In this nonfiction work composed of personal memories, vignettes, and meditations, Whitehead captures all of the varied and often contradictory qualities of New York City. In 2006, he returned to fiction with the publication of another novel, Apex Hides the Hurt. His fourth novel, Sag Harbor, published in 2009, is a semiautobiographical story. Whitehead is a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.