Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Moderator
Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson Whitehead will join our discussion for the next three weeks!

 

Please welcome him into our discussion of Sag Harbor, and post your questions for him here!

Distinguished Correspondent
biljounc63
Posts: 189
Registered: ‎11-02-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Thanks for being open to allow the average person to read your book before it its official release date.

 

It has come up in the discussions that the book is written from the perspective of Benji. We are wondering at what stage of Benji's life was it written? His current age, as an young adult, middle age, etc. 

Thanks 

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
~ Joseph Addison ~

"Reading lets you visit the world of another"
Inspired Bibliophile
thewanderingjew
Posts: 2,247
Registered: ‎12-18-2007

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Your book has opened my eyes to so many issues I never thought about. Do you think there will ever be a meaningful dialogue between the races, without anger, to address all of the misconceptions held by both sides? There is a book which addresses the misconceptions about faith. Do you think there should be one about race? I wish there was.

It didn't make me happy to realize that when I was a teacher, years ago, I might have inadvertently done something to offend one of my students because my gestures or remarks would have been perceived in a wholly different way than they were intended.

twj

Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Thanks so much for making your book available to us.

 

I wondered why you did not just write an autobiography? instead of making it fiction but still based on events in your life?

 

I also wondered about the lack of the sister being mentioned. Was there a reason for that?

 

 

The insight that Benji displays, did he have this much insight as a teenager or is he relaying this story as an adult?

 

I had some difficulty understanding all the "terms" used by the kids.

 

I wish there had been a bit more plot that connects all the stories of Benji's youth.

 

What exactly are you looking to convey to the reader?  

What was the main aim for this book?

 

Hope I am not asking too many questions.

 

thanks..D. 

Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

 

Hello, folks!

 

Well, I'm here. I look forward to talking with you guys over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoyed the book, and if you didn't like it, perhaps the hours you spent reading it kept you from a more unpleasant experience. Like attending an unwanted social engagement, or getting food poisoning in a beloved restaurant, thus tainting the memories of the place forevermore. 

 

I'll be in and out of here, checking out the scene and trying to be helpful where I can. I've been following the posts since last week, and it has been an interesting experience.

 

But to start things off, as to how old is Ben/Benji when he is telling the story, the answer is: It's not spelled out it, is it?

 

If I had wanted to be specific, I would have said, "As I recall that summer, now that I am forty-five, husband to my lovely Bella, father of three darling children...I was so young then!" or something along those lines. A bit corny, no?

 

To determine how old he is, he has to be old enough to have an adult perspective on the summer of 1985, a certain amount of additional wisdom. That accounts for the way he tells the story, and his processing of events years past.

 

So, he is not sixteen, right? Is he twenty-five? Forty? Sixty. It's up to you, my friends!

 

Additionally, enough time must have passed for him to know certain facts -- how, for example, friends of his came to unfortunate ends, as we see at the end of Chapter 4. So that's another time marker -- how much time must have passed for the events at the end of Chapter 4 to have occurred?

 

I didn't spell it out, did I? So I guess you have to decide for yourself. But he's probably not 16, right?

 

Anyhoo, I'll be back soon!

 

And I keep a list of helpful links at  my website, here:

 

http://www.colsonwhitehead.com/Sag_Harbor.html

 

Which might be helpful!

 

Colson

 


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Scribe
DSaff
Posts: 2,048
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

First, welcome to our group Mr. Whitehead! It is a pleasure to have an author join us, and to have you here for three weeks should be a great treat. Thank you for joining us.

 

Second, my question would be about the timing of your novel. I am enjoying it, for the most part, and am happy that you shared it with us. But, what caused you to write the book now? What was your stimulus?

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
Distinguished Wordsmith
aprilh
Posts: 424
Registered: ‎09-25-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Thank you for sharing your book with us before it is released to the public. I'm enjoying it very much. Thanks also for the link to your website. The Q&A section answered some of my questions.
April
Reader 2
LitChickLB
Posts: 4
Registered: ‎12-06-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

I liked the way you began the book explaining the "out" greetings for those of us who have never had the experience of going to the shore for the summer or for weekends. Is the community still there as it was in the book or has it diversified?

 

Having lived in Wyoming and Colorado my whole life, I've never experienced going to the shore. It was fun imagining what it looks like, how the houses and cottages are situated, and the kids either running through the woods and backyards or going to town in their teens.

Inspired Contributor
no4daughter
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-15-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Not a very profound question but, here it is:

 

Why did you choose to spell the phrase "even Stephen" instead of the more common and matchy-matchy even Steven?

 

I am really enjoying your book.

Inspired Correspondent
libralady
Posts: 159
Registered: ‎09-23-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

First of all, thanks so much for sharing your book with us!  It is exciting to be able to ask questions and discuss the book with you before it is released to the public!  I am enjoying the book so far, especially the descriptions of the people and places on Sag Harbor.  I especially like the chapter that describes Ben's experiences at Jonni Waffle.

 

My question is regarding Ben's friends; NP, Randy, Marcus, Bobby. Are these characters based on people from your past or are they "made up" ?

"Sow today what you want to reap tomorrow"
Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

 

Hey again,

 

As to this question:

 

"I wondered why you did not just write an autobiography? instead of making it fiction but still based on events in your life?"

 

The answer is: Because my life isn't that interesting. There are probably few people who had a Summer of '85 that would be worthy of writing a book about. 

 

Like if you were in an avalanche, or had to outrun a tsunami. That would be a crazy story!

 

I, however, am not one of them.

 

Most people's lives wouldn't make interesting novels, so you have to make things up.

 

If I were in an avalanche or tsunami, and survived, I would totally try and monetize that into a memoir. I ain't no dummy.

 

When I worked at ice cream store, did I have weird racial encounter with my boss that led me to sabotage his freezer? No. He was a cool guy, and I'm not a freezer-sabotager.

 

But certainly my time working at an ice cream store helped me make those scenes more realistic. 

 

Do I hate people who hate rum raisin? Some of my best friends eat rum raisin. 

 

To lay it out a little more, an excerpt of "Sag Harbor" ran in the New Yorker and I was asked this question:

 

How is Benji different from you?

 

And I answered:

 

I tend not to act or feel or talk in a way that would add anything worthwhile to an extended work of fiction. I tend not to do things that lend themselves to dramatic unity, aesthetic harmony, and narrative discharge. My leitmotifs are crappy. I need an editor or someone of artistic bent to shape my useless existence into something that would interest other people. Also, I am a real person.

 

I hope that is helpful...

 

Colson!


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


>>>Not a very profound question but, here it is:

 

Why did you choose to spell the phrase "even Stephen" instead of the more common and matchy-matchy even Steven?

 

I am really enjoying your book.<<

 

 

There are weird little typos that come and go, and you hunt them down, and they come back. Like varmints. I assume in the final final copy, it will be mathy matchy.

 

But you never know.

 

Colson


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Inspired Bibliophile
Vermontcozy
Posts: 5,279
Registered: ‎10-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

First I would like to thank you for taking us on your journey,I appreciate all the references to certain locations,that have meaning to me as well and feelings,that you have brought to the surface,that many people have not experienced..exactly..the global feelings are just that..we have all been there with you,and I must get back to the book...My daughter is buying one of your books,until I give her "Sag Harbor"then I will read another one of yours.I was raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn..Are you in touch with some of your boyhood friends?VtCozy
Kindness,I've discovered,is everything in life...Issac Bashevis Singer
Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

I would have liked a bit more of the motives behind some of the thoughts and actions of the characters.  Such as why did Benji leave the freezer open? 

Why did his sister talk about leaving the house as soon as he could? What does, "you know what goes on in that house?" mean to her and to Benji.  Is it just that the parents left them alone alot?

 

 

thanks..Doreen 

  

Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

It seems the style of this book is like a group of short stories or journal entries of Benji's summer

 Each one not always related to the past events.

 Is that the style you were thinking of when writing this?

 

thanks..Doreen 

Inspired Correspondent
Read-n-Rider
Posts: 157
Registered: ‎01-29-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Welcome to our group, Mr. Whitehead, and thank you for allowing us this pre-publication look at your new novel.  I haven't finished the book yet, but am finding it very enjoyable.  My question, which is absolutely NOT profound, concerns working at the ice cream shop.  If this is something that you really did, were you, as Benji was, allowed to eat all the "goodies" you wanted and, like him, able to do so without gaining weight?  As someone who loves ice cream and is constantly fighting the weight battle, I found this possibility SO appealing!

 

Joan

Distinguished Wordsmith
Carmenere_lady
Posts: 529
Registered: ‎11-05-2006

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Welcome Mr. Whitehead,  As you and I are nearly the same age I want to thank you for taking me back to a time I had hoped to forget.  The clothes, songs, food and anxieties brought back bittersweet memories. I must say that your comedic timing is terrific.  The way you set up a story like dag and then through it in again later makes it all the more humorous.  Like we've been let in on the joke.  So my question to you is; do you have some kind of comedic training or entertaining in your past? Also, thanks for taking the time to join us.
Lynda

"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
The Uncommon Reader


"You've been running around naked in the stacks again, haven't you?"
"Um, maybe."
The Time Traveler's Wife

It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part.
Voltaire
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

[ Edited ]

Dear Mr. Whitehead, thank you for sharing your time and creative processes with us.

 

I’ve read your earlier books with much joy. I’m delighted to participate in this discussion.

 

Your writing feels light and fresh and irreverent on the surface, but it’s actually very layered. I’ve enjoyed the hilarious but biting social critiques of your earlier books… on government bureacracy and elevator inspectors in “The Intuitionist”, and on our culture’s obsession with brand-names in “Apex Hides the Hurt”.

 

I fell in love with Lila Mae from “The Intuitionist; she’s a marvelous literary creation……and  the nomenclature consultant in “Apex Hides the Hurt” who thinks up brand-names for bandaids that are color-matched to human skin. When I read it last year on the subway, I laughed out loud and got strange looks from strangers. He reminds me of Ben grown up and making a living brand-naming thinks like styrofoam cups.

 

“Sag Harbor” is a major change. I grew up in the 80s and am struggling to ward off those miserable teenage memories that Ben is making me remember. Adolescence, struggling to find our self-identities, is a universally tough period for so many of us...

 

Of all the periods that you could have focused on, why this one? Do you address your story to an audience of teenagers like Ben...  as well those of us who have survived this turbulent era of our lives, scars and all?

 

Message Edited by IBIS on 02-23-2009 11:18 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
Frequent Contributor
GSB65
Posts: 40
Registered: ‎12-06-2008

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson,

  Thank you for sharing your new book with us and taking the time to discuss it.  I'm finished with the book and I enjoyed every page.  Being a child of the '80's myself, some of your references took me back in time.  It's a light, entertaining read, but at the same time it makes you think.

I'm not sure how many of the postings you have read, but there was a definite reaction to the fact that the kids were left alone all week.  Does it surprise you that people seemed so upset with the fact that the boys were left alone while the parents went back to the city?

I think the lack of parental supervision gave us a lot of the story.  So many of the things wouldn't have happened if the parents had been there. 

 

Thanks!!

 

Stephenie

 

Frequent Contributor
deannafrances
Posts: 77
Registered: ‎07-19-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

I was wondering if you had given much thought to how the book would awaken other's memories of their past--I think much of the enjoyment of the book comes from the aha  

moments when you recognize something you yourself did--for example getting a job at

an ice cream store/dairy queen/fast food and stuffing yourself with all the product.

I laughed aloud when I read that part. 

 

 

 

Does Benji realize that in the larger population--he is truly blessed to have a summer home to go to?   Many people in the Midwest consider themselves lucky to spend a day on one of the Great Lakes, luckier to spend a week on vacation, -but it is  almost impossible to imagine getting to spend the entire summer on the beach.