Colson Whitehead

An acclaimed novelist engages both tastemakers and readers

There are writers whom the publishing industry, the literati, etc. claim (for whatever pretentious reason) we plebs would appreciate if only we had more than a double-digit IQ. Then there are authors who are, by consensus, actually a pleasure to read. Occasionally the stars align and the Colson Whiteheads of the world—while winning impressive-sounding awards (e.g. the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and many ornamental lines of adjectives in their book reviews—bridge the schism with novels that both entertain and edify. The author of The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, and Apex Hides the Hurt will offer tidbits, in his sardonic yet poignant voice, from his newest, unpublished work tonight at Benaroya Hall. Though his cultural references and magnetic sense of humor are unapologetically that of a lifelong New Yorker, Whitehead explores themes of home and locality in ways that anyone, whether habitués of “huts or mansions,” as he puts it, can relate to. Though he’s an African-American author who writes primarily from the perspective of black protagonists, Whitehead’s characters transcend their color marker with blunt, three-dimensional personas. And though his works aren’t strictly autobiographical, Whitehead nonetheless finds “bits of [himself]” strewn among “protagonists, villains, [and] side-characters.” He avoids the vice of many a popular author—rewriting a fictional alter ego into annual plot clones—through the antics of characters like an elevator “intuitionist,” a nomenclature consultant, and an unscrupulous journalist. But Whitehead pulls no punches; his intelligent, multilayered characters, seeking epiphany in contemplating Mother Nature, are equally likely to discover they’re really just ankle-deep in pigshit. Benaroya Hall, Third Avenue and Union Street, 621-2230, www.lectures.org. $10-$27. 7:30 p.m.

Mon., Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m., 2008

 
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