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Inspired Correspondent
Maria_H
Posts: 791
Registered: ‎07-19-2007

About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead and Sag Harbor

 

Title: Sag Harbor

The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. He spends his falls and winters going to roller-disco bar mitzvahs, playing too much Dungeons and Dragons, and trying to catch glimpses of nudity on late-night cable TV. After a tragic mishap on his first day of high school -- when Benji reveals his deep enthusiasm for the horror movie magazine Fangoria -- his social doom is sealed for the next four years.

 

But every summer, Benji escapes to Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own. Because their parents come out only on weekends, he and his friends are left to their own devices for three glorious months. And although he's just as confused about this all-black refuge as he is about the white world he negotiates the rest of the year, he thinks that maybe this summer things will be different. If all goes according to plan, that is.

 

There will be trials and tribulations, of course.  There will be complicated new handshakes to fumble through, and state-of-the-art profanity to master. He will be tested by contests big and small, by his misshapen haircut (which seems to have a will of its own), by the New Coke Tragedy of '85, and by his secret Lite FM addiction. But maybe, with a little luck, things will turn out differently this summer.

 

 

About Colson Whitehead:

Colson Whitehead was born in New York City. His first novel, The Intuitionist, won the QPB New Voices Award and was an Ernest Hemingway/PEN Award finalist. His second novel, John Henry Days, was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. He is also the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award. Whitehead lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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Frequent Contributor
reader76
Posts: 29
Registered: ‎02-05-2009

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I just wanted to say that when I started reading this book, it took me back to the days when I was riding in the van going to our family's destination in the summer.  We would get up early when it is still dark and chilly because of the dampness in the air.  I would still be sleepy doing the "zombie" like walk and at the same time trying to pack the van.  Benji and his brother are lucky because they got to go back to sleep because in our family no one can sleep until our ritual rosary was said.  How I hated that!  We traveled to Crivitz, WI every July and the ride seemed interminable but once you breathed in the salty, beachy air, everything was good.  Oh, I can definitely relate to Benji's annual trip to Sag Harbour.  I can feel the sand between my toes!
Reader
nytngale128
Posts: 3
Registered: ‎01-27-2009

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I read this book very quickly because it was so enjoyable. It reminded me of the many feelings I had growing up and some of the beach bonfires I used to attend. as well as the crazy things that kids do. I also remembered what it is like to come in to your own-to actually realize you are growing up and someday you will be "replaced" by someone else. The idea of the parents coming up to Sag Harbor only on weekends reminded of the latch-key society that we live in today. Parents working and kids coming home from school and being on their own. Benji and Reggie were close to eachother despite age differences and the concept of family is very important as you grow into adulthood. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend to everyone.
Inspired Contributor
gmfuhlman
Posts: 133
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I started this book right away and I am so enjoying this book.  It reminds me of growing up in Texas.  In fact it got me thinking about my childhood and all of the enjoyed that I had coming into myself.  So far this is a great read for me.  Thank you first Look for choosing this book.
Inspired Bibliophile
thewanderingjew
Posts: 2,247
Registered: ‎12-18-2007

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I have found this book to be so enlightening to me. The divide between cultures, races and religions is enormous because of our individual perception of events as they unfold. We really do need a way to develop better communication, without the fear of saying something that isn't politically correct, so that we can speak more plainly and perhaps actually learn more about each other and then come to understand  how and why some think one way and some think another. Perhaps then we would all get along better.

Mr. Whitehead has done a very good job of putting me inside his head and his world so that I may look at it through his eyes.

twj

Distinguished Correspondent
Jennmarie68
Posts: 127
Registered: ‎02-09-2009
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I have to agree. This book does not shy away from the controversial. It only seems natural that the things that are being brought to light in the book should be topics of converstations.

 

Being that I go to school online I'm used to having heated forum discussions. You learn to let someone know that you don't agree with them but you also learn to word your responses right so that they don't come off as being "This is so because I said"....

 

It took me awhile to be able to post what I felt without fear of offending someone or hurting them, but once you learn how to do it there are so many more dimensions to the discussion.

 

-Jennifer

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Wordsmith
Deltadawn
Posts: 311
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

[ Edited ]

I had quite a hectic week last week and was unable to post until today! However, I've been reading the book and am enjoying it greatly. I can't wait to get further into Benji's story (I have not yet finished it) and am looking forward to participating in the discussions on this forum from this point forward!

:-)

Message Edited by Deltadawn on 02-23-2009 09:54 PM
Message Edited by Deltadawn on 02-23-2009 09:55 PM
New User
rightimage
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎01-31-2009

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I have not yet finished reading Sag Harbor, but seeing this area of Long Island from the viewpoint of everyone taking the summer off is fascinating.  It reminds me of my summer vacations.  If we stayed home, there were visits from aunts, uncles, and cousins from New England.  If we went to Massachusetts, may times my mom's relatives would get a small cottage on Cape Cod and we would spend a couple weeks there.  We did not have much adult supervision then, either.  I guess our parents trusted us not to get into too much trouble, and they certainly were not afraid of any harm coming to us from "strangers," either.  Nice to feel that safe and free.  The book gives us an appreciation for the absolute freedom of childhood summers.
Contributor
brezi
Posts: 23
Registered: ‎04-11-2008
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

I really liked this book overall. I found it interesting the way Mr. Whitehead showed what was going on in Benji's head - the perspective of a black teenager living in mostly-white Long Island. I did feel the level of description was a little much in parts (especially in the "action-oriented" sections, for lack of a better term). Several times I ended up glossing over the detailed description to find out what happens next in the story. Other than that, this was an engrossing and enjoyable read.
Reader
MissouriMami62
Posts: 4
Registered: ‎02-05-2009
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

First, i want to say i am excited to read a book by a critically acclaimed author like Mr. Whitehead. I am enjoying the book. It has taken me back to my high school days and find myself laughing out loud. As one who grew up as the only white family in the projects, i can relate to alot of descriptions and some of what he is talking about. As someone who was raised to have an open mind and to read alot, i am familiar with beaches along the Atlantic that were for blacks only. One was just reopened on Virginia Key here near Miami. I always heard about Sag Harbor from the acclaimed chef and entrepeneur B. Smith whom i love. OF course, there's the Sag Harbor clothing liine at Penneys. Can't wait to get more into the book. I am glad to be reading again. My mother died in 2004 in a traumatic way.  Before her death, i read 15+ books a month and then after her death i did not read a single book for 4 years. It feels good to be back reading.
Frequent Contributor
x-tempo
Posts: 102
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead


MissouriMami62 wrote:
First, i want to say i am excited to read a book by a critically acclaimed author like Mr. Whitehead. I am enjoying the book. It has taken me back to my high school days and find myself laughing out loud. As one who grew up as the only white family in the projects, i can relate to alot of descriptions and some of what he is talking about... 
Hi, MM62! Sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you don't mind that I've edited your post, but your first few sentences might help to put this novel in a useful context for others.
 
Far be it from me to label anyone's fiction, but be aware that there is a loosely-defined genre (or sub-genre, maybe) of literary fiction known as HIP-HOP FICTION, which often features characters known as GHETTO NERDS, who may be either white, black or Latino youths who are out of place in certain cultural situations like: "Dylan," the white kid in Jonathan Lethem's "The Fortress of Solitude" who moves into a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn where he attends black schools; "Gunnar Kaufman" in Paul Beatty's "White Boy Shuffle," a young black kid transplanted from a multicultural California suburb to gang- and crime-ridden South Central Los Angeles. Other books of this type that I've read include "Angry Black White Boy" by Adam Mansbach and "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz.
 
The characters may have black-culture-derived nicknames, like "Talented Tenth" (the saxophone player in "Shackling Water" by Adam Mansbach), "Tragic Mulatto" (the girlfriend in "More Like Wrestling" by Danyel Smith); the aforementioned "Gunnar Kaufman" (a name which evokes "Gunnar Myrdal," the Swiss economist who wrote "An American Dilemma," a famous study of US race relations in the 1940s, as well as Bob Kaufman, an African American "Beat" poet); and in this novel "NP," short for "N____, Please!" a phrase that occurs repeatedly in "Oscar Wao."
 
Another favorite character in hip-hop fiction, although there are none of this type in "Sag Harbor," is the 300 lb. ghetto youth (possibly a Biggie Smalls surrogate, or so I've heard) who appears in novels like Paul Beatty's "Tuff," Díaz's "Oscar Wao," as well as novels by Victor LaValle and Gary Shteyngart.
Zadie Smith's "On Beauty" also has a hip-hop theme running through it and there are many others. It's a generational and cultural orientation of the post-1960s.
Related, but perhaps not hip-hop, are the "slackers," the "sad young literary men" and the "indecision" folks coming out of Harvard -- the "cousins," if you will, of the J. Sutters and Benji Coopers.
 
You might start with "The Rise of the Black Nerd," a 2002 Village Voice article by James Hannaham:
 
http://www.villagevoice.com/2002-07-30/news/the-rise-of-the-black-nerd/ 
 
 
 

 

Frequent Contributor
x-tempo
Posts: 102
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

Also, Hip-hop fiction often makes liberal use of the n-word. About 40-50 times in "Oscar Wao," about 100 times in "White Boy Shuffle" or more, in "Tuff" and "Angry Black White Boy."
New User
jmc01
Posts: 4
Registered: ‎02-20-2009
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

Hello Everyone,

 

This the first opportunity I had to post a response.  I am reading the novel, but found it a bit difficult to get into the flow of the story at first. Maybe my concentration was not as it should have been. It is flowing nicely now and I finding the subject matter quite interesting. It certainly takes me back to my childhood years.

 

I will provide more feedback later. 

 

 

Jacqueline

Correspondent
HannibalCat
Posts: 238
Registered: ‎10-25-2006

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead


thewanderingjew wrote:

I have found this book to be so enlightening to me. The divide between cultures, races and religions is enormous because of our individual perception of events as they unfold. We really do need a way to develop better communication, without the fear of saying something that isn't politically correct, so that we can speak more plainly and perhaps actually learn more about each other and then come to understand  how and why some think one way and some think another. Perhaps then we would all get along better.

Mr. Whitehead has done a very good job of putting me inside his head and his world so that I may look at it through his eyes.

twj


My sister and I are 1 1/2 years apart in age and we don't understand each other.  I am constantly amazed at how we will both be saying the same thing, but using different words, wind up taking 10 minutes to understand what we are saying to each other. By the way, I work for her!  That's a hoot! I am her office manager and we really have to know what each other is saying. 
We are very close, from the same culture, get along well, and still our own vernacular gets in the way of understanding. How are we going to go about learning each other's ways, when we have problems within our own culture and peers? How do we reach out to other cultures without appearing condescending or superior or stupid. There is so much to learn from someone like Colson as we read his version of his Sag Harbor experiences.
I can picture my sister and myself in his pages. I can hear our different words, and I can feel the separation of the brothers. We had many of the same kinds of experiences, but we are worlds apart. How come? 

 

Reader
MissouriMami62
Posts: 4
Registered: ‎02-05-2009
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

Dear  X-Tempo

 

 I have read all genres of fiction except horror and sci-fi since I started reading. To categorize Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize winning novel as hip hop fiction is incorrect in my opinion. Hip Hop fiction, in my opinion, are all the novels about players, gold diggers, etc.

I certainly don't need a lesson on what hip hop fiction is or even that it exists. I don't classify Eric Jerome Dickey as hip hop fiction either.  I know all about youth that don't feel in touch with today's society. My family lived in the projects for 30 years , long after i left home at 17 to join the Air Force. I did not need a lesson from you in hip hop lingo or language used by Blacks, Latinos,etc., in the hood or the ghetto or  the 'Jects. You judged me because i said i grew up White i a black neighborhood. You assumed that i was not raised to be race conscious or maybe you assumed that we did not interact our neighbors.

Actually i dont know what you assumed about me. My father was Native American, my mother was Spanish, Turkish, and Greek. My ex-husband was Jamaican. My husband now is Cubano.

Thank you for "editing" my comments to put them in context for others. I majored in Journalism. I was making a quick post, trying to get back into the habit of participating in book clubs again after a long hiatus. However, you reminded me of how the members of book clubs are. They assume things about others based on little information.
Yes, i know who Zadie Smith is. I hurried out to buy her book. I knew who Colson was even though i was in major depression. I know of his critically acclaimed other novels before this one.

 

I met Dickey in person. He and i share the same birthday.

 

I know about "black nerds" like Urkel.

 

I don't need to start anywhere. You need to examine your self for your own hidden prejudices and you need to realize that you judged me incorrectly.

 

I am not an ignorant cracker and never was. You insulted my intelligence and you insulted me with your condescending "lesson". Go "school" someone else. Meanwhile, i will go back to reading Sister Souljah's new novel and watching 106 and Park.

 

Thank you very much. I know something about you just from you deciding i needed a lesson in African American lingo and characters in African American fiction. Please.

Reader
MissouriMami62
Posts: 4
Registered: ‎02-05-2009
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

Where do you live? The divide between rac

es is not enormous. 3 major religions descended from Abraham. What divide between what religions are you talking about?

To think divides between races and religions are enormous is your opinion, of course. However, as someone who has served this great nation of ours , it is certainly disheartening to hear in 2009. There are differences but President Obama is a shining example of what can happen when people look beyond culture, race, religion, etc,.

 

The divide is between blacks, whites, latinos, asians versus Native Americans like my father.When is the last time you heard something on tv about the unemployment rate among Native Americans, the digital divide with Native Americans, et cetera.

Frequent Contributor
x-tempo
Posts: 102
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead

Hello All,

 

MissouriMami62, Sorry to disagree, but the term hip-hop is applied to literary fiction, although it's true, it sometimes used to describe "street lit" as well. 

 

For example, here's an excerpt from a review of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," on Adam Mansbach's Web site (one of the authors I mentioned). He's a musical performer as well as an author:

 

"Critics are sure to comment on the cultural and stylistic mash-ups to be found here, the fact that Diaz's narrator can switch from arch, romantic prose to flippant slang, from English to Spanish, from manga to In The Time of the Butterflies. Some will find this level of democracy unrealistic -- particularly once the novel's main narrator is revealed to be a college professor -- not realizing that this kind of multi-literacy and gleeful cross-stitching is a hallmark of hip hop generation fiction."

 

http://www.adammansbach.com/other/review-diaz.html

 

I received your email but of course, I wasn't thinking any of those things you accuse me of, however, I think I'll just disregard the insults because the simple solution is for us to not talk further to each other.  

 

 

Moderator
dhaupt
Posts: 11,832
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: About Sag Harbor & Colson Whitehead


x-tempo wrote:

Hello All,

 

MissouriMami62, Sorry to disagree, but the term hip-hop is applied to literary fiction, although it's true, it sometimes used to describe "street lit" as well. 

 

For example, here's an excerpt from a review of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," on Adam Mansbach's Web site (one of the authors I mentioned). He's a musical performer as well as an author:

 

"Critics are sure to comment on the cultural and stylistic mash-ups to be found here, the fact that Diaz's narrator can switch from arch, romantic prose to flippant slang, from English to Spanish, from manga to In The Time of the Butterflies. Some will find this level of democracy unrealistic -- particularly once the novel's main narrator is revealed to be a college professor -- not realizing that this kind of multi-literacy and gleeful cross-stitching is a hallmark of hip hop generation fiction."

 

http://www.adammansbach.com/other/review-diaz.html

 

I received your email but of course, I wasn't thinking any of those things you accuse me of, however, I think I'll just disregard the insults because the simple solution is for us to not talk further to each other.  

 

 


Thank you for your responses x-tempo,
It disheartens me when I see things being taken out of context which I think your responses were. However there are a lot of different personalities and ideas floating around in our various minds and sometimes we only see what we want to.
I hope that this doesn't keep either of you from participating further because we need all the different ideas and attitudes to keep us all on our toes, but I wish at times we could just be a little more kind to each other about it.
And to add I hope I didn't step on toes to say that, it's just that life's too short.