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dhaupt
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Hi Colson,

Thank you so much for sharing your incredibly funny, heart wrenching and enjoyable story with us. Coming of age works are always hard for me because I was that poor kid with the blemished skin and no friends who became very shy because of it and so I always feel more in touch with the outcasts. But ask any one who knows me now and you'll find out I grew out of it and became the outspoken 50 something woman I am now.

 

My question for you is, since you've let us in on the fact that this is sort of autobiographical, were you left alone like you stated in the book for such long periods of time and what would you think of doing the like with your daughter at that age?

 

 

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LisaMM80
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Hi Colson,

 

I'm loving your book and want to thank you for sharing it with us before the general public gets their chance at it!

 

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book- just finished the BBQ incident, and beginning to wonder if the book is going to take a darker turn.  I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father and became very adept at making myself small and unnoticed whenever possible, so the scene with Benji watching The Road Warrior (staying out of the way, turning up the volume, not making eye contact when his father was yelling at his mother, plotting to get out of the house before things got ugly, charting the progress of dad's trips to the liquor cabinet, fear of repurcussions after a neighbor stopped by- depending on what the neighbor would say and how dad would interpret it later, etc) was very relatable for me and extremely realistic and well written.   I could feel the trepidation, the 'one false move and he'll turn on me' kind of fear.  So my question is.. how did you know?  How were you able to nail this part?  Did you grow up with an alcoholic?

 

 Thanks so much.  You're wildly talented. 

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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


thewanderingjew wrote:

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


 

Hey twj

 

Thanks for taking the time to read the book. I'm you were affected by it...

 

I'm just a guy writing books, not an emissary from our post-racial future, so I can only say...As a father of a four year old, I wish her a better world than the one I grew up in, as my parents did for me. Better in all kinds of ways.

 

And, I don't know, I've been surprised by the world lately, so who know where we're going...

 

Thanks again!

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


DSaff wrote:

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?


 

Hello  DSaff,

 

The pleasure is all mine!

 

I'm glad you are enjoying it, for the most part.

 

It's my fifth book, and I try to make each one different from the ones before. A lot of my fiction has originated in trying to solve or explore some sort of intellectual problem...and when I was thinking of what to work on next, I felt I need to mix it up a bit. Try a different sort of novel.

 

A few years ago, I started visiting Sag Harbor after a long absence. When I had friends out with me, I realised that as I tried to explain life out there, all the back stories, there was a lot of material there. 

 

So I decided to use it.

 

In short, it seemed like a nice departure, and a good point in my weird trip as a writer to try something different!

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


libralady wrote:

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" ?


Hey Libralady,

 

 

Glad you liked the ice cream chapter. Working in an ice cream store ruined me for the stuff forever, but at least I got some good material out of it.

 

So -- the friends of Benji.

 

Basically, in books as in life, people won't do what you want them to. In life you have to put up with it. In books, you just make them do what you want them to. Because you can. 

 

Growing up, my group had the typical mix of characters -- the alpha dog, the class clown, the dork, the straight-laced one. When I started, I thought I could borrow some aspects of my friends, but each time the "Bob" character appeared, he did something that the "real" Bob would not and did not do. Because -- he's doing what the book needs him to do, he's executing my design for the book. So sentence by sentence, Bob is the book's Bob, and not the real Bob. 

 

If my friends were book-worthy folks (and if I were, too), I would have milked the heck out of them, shoot.

 

colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


Vermontcozy wrote:
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

 

Hey Vermont Cozy

 

Glad you liked it -- and that you're picking up another book of mine.

 

That's what we like to hear, over at HQ. 

 

I don't see a lot of my childhood friends, I'm afraid. In terms of my old Sag Harbor crew, some of us still go out to Sag Harbor, some of us don't. We're all in different places in our lives...

 

Part of the fun of writing the book was re-creating those days of unlikely camaraderie, when we were left to our own bizarre devices. It was a unique time in my life, anf I hope my affection for it comes across.

 

All best 

 

Colson


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rdownie
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Hi Colson,

 

Thanks so much for being willing to let a group of amateur literati take a stab at your book before the general public gets a hold of it.  I have to be honest, I had mixed feelings about this book.  It made me laugh...a lot, but it also was somewhat frustrating.  I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue.  Being a teen in the 80's, I can well relate to the language. ("Dag" was a particular favorite.)  However, I didn't think that there was enough.  There was a ton of narrative, and the problem I think I had was that the descriptive voice was a hundred times removed from the voice of young Benji.  It was almost too mature.  I recognize the reflective nature of the piece, but it seemed, at times, calculated.  I felt, at times, that I had to slog through description after qualitative description to get to the meat of the story.  I just wanted to eavesdrop in on more of the conversations without such elaborate set-up.  But hey, kudos to you!  It's really quite a feat, and I'm sure that an accomplished author  such as yourself doesn't need to defend writing styles.  But in the interest of informing, can you tell me if this is your particular writing style or if this was something new?

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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


LitChickLB wrote:

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.


 

Hey LitChickLB

 

 

Glad to give a slice of life on the coast.

 

Real estate trumps everything, so yes, the community has changed. While the land is not as prized as property on the ocean-side of the island, the Sag Harbor waterfront and the communities that border it have seen big price increases and a diversification of the populace -- yep, white people live in Azurest now. 

 

As the Hamptons at large increased in popularity and trendiness, so did small quaint pockets like Sag Harbor. So the sleepy town I describe is no more. It's on the map. It gets written up in gossip pages  and what not.

 

Part of what I wanted to do in the book was celebrate the town as it used to be --  the black part of town, as well as Main St. It's been nice to get responses from people who knew the town back then, and recall all the lost places as fondly as I do.

 

Thanks, LitChickLB!

 

Colsob


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

 



canterbear wrote:

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 


 

 Doreen,

 

Yep -- I wanted each chapter to address one face or aspect or mood of Benji's summer. Obviously, they build upon each other, but I wanted each chapter to have a specific temperment, and focus on theme or idea.

 

 

All best

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


Read-n-Rider wrote:

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


 

Joan,

 

Yes...and the thought of it makes my stomach flip. I usually skipped lunch and gorged myself on ice cream, milkshakes and candy all shift, for three summers.

 

I had a stomach ache at the end of the day, but that didn't stop me from doing it all over again the next day. My metabolism kept the weight off (although you know, I'm not sure if it's as hyperactive as it used to be, I'm noticing.)

 

But, like Benji, I can no longer abide sweets or dessert. 

 

So I don't recommend this course for you, if you want to continue your love affair.

 

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


Carmenere_lady wrote:
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.

 

 

Hello Carmenere_lady,

 

 

Thanks for the nice words...

 

I don't have any particular comedic training. When I think about it, constructing a joke over the course of a long chapter, or the course of a book, is like contructing a metaphor, or figure of speech, or image -- you get better, over the course of writing for many years, at keeping a lot of balls in the air. Benji's voice allowed me to indulge in a lot of jokes, big and small. 

 

The thing about writing jokes in a book is that for years, you're the only one laughing at them. So you're constantly wondering, Is this funny or am I just deluding myself? So I'm glad you enjoyed the humor...

 

Yes, I think we would like to forget the '80s. And after that, the '70s.

 

thanks

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


IBIS wrote:

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

 

Hey IBIS,

 

 

So glad you liked those earlier books. Nice that you heard about this book club and were able to participate.

 

Yes, this is a major change...why did I pick this time period? I was out in Sag Harbor during my childhood and adolescence...and it seemed that this age was a good one in terms of manchildness. Starting to have agency, but not having that much agency.

 

1985 allowed me to talk about some larger cultural currents that could be fruitful avenues of exploration, like the Cosby Show and early hip hop. 

 

It also allowed me to capture the town before the other Hamptons enchroached and "took it over."

 

So there many things in an in-between status: Benji, pop culture, the town itself.

 

As for who do I see reading it...will teenagers like it? I don't know. Certainly I don't write for an intended audience in mind when I'm working.

 

I'm always hoping that despite the specific particulars of Benji's story, people of all kinds can find different moments where they relate to him in different ways.

 

If that makes sense!

 

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


GSB65 wrote:

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

 


 

Stephenie,

 

Thanks so much for the kind words. It really means a lot, especially as the book get ready for its release into the world.

 

I wasn't surprised at all at the response to the situtation -- I certainly won't be letting my kid hang out that long by herself when she becomes a teenager. You're right that the parents' absence allows a lot of the book to happen.

 

It is the situation that sets the events in motion, and yes, many people would raise an eyebrow.

 

It was a different time...to say the least!

 

Thanks again.

 


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


deannafrances wrote:

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.  


 

Hey Deannafrances,

 

 

Glad to hear that you are identifying with some of the particulars...Yes, you do have to get acquainted with the product, that's for sure.

 

It's not mentioned in the book, so I don't know how much Benji appreciates his summer retreat. (I can't go back and re-write the book to address something that is not pertinent to his story.)

 

I can say for myself, however, that I didn't realize how fortunate I was to have such a community growing up, and I took it for granted. I'm lucky that I can go out there now for a few weeks, and enjoy it still.

 

Thanks for the question

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


dhaupt wrote:

Hi Colson,

Thank you so much for sharing your incredibly funny, heart wrenching and enjoyable story with us. Coming of age works are always hard for me because I was that poor kid with the blemished skin and no friends who became very shy because of it and so I always feel more in touch with the outcasts. But ask any one who knows me now and you'll find out I grew out of it and became the outspoken 50 something woman I am now.

 

My question for you is, since you've let us in on the fact that this is sort of autobiographical, were you left alone like you stated in the book for such long periods of time and what would you think of doing the like with your daughter at that age?

 

 


 

Dhaupt,

 

Congrats on your ascent to swanhood.

 

The true-to-life part is the setup: I grew up in the city, and would go out to Sag Harbor in the summers. When I was a teenager, my parents worked in the city during the week and came out on weekends.

 

From there, I get to work trying to make a novel out of that premise. Where is the drama, where is the story? Looking back, "it was a different time" as they say. We didn't lock our doors, the neighbors looked in on us to make sure we didn't get into trouble...and for young black men in the 80s, it was frankly a lot safer than the Big City.

 

And we were dorks, so we stayed out of trouble. 

 

But no way, you couldn't do that today, sheesh. That's how you wind up on Jerry Springer. 

 

And no one wants to wind up on Jerry Springer.

 

Thanks!

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


LisaMM80 wrote:

Hi Colson,

 

I'm loving your book and want to thank you for sharing it with us before the general public gets their chance at it!

 

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book- just finished the BBQ incident, and beginning to wonder if the book is going to take a darker turn.  I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father and became very adept at making myself small and unnoticed whenever possible, so the scene with Benji watching The Road Warrior (staying out of the way, turning up the volume, not making eye contact when his father was yelling at his mother, plotting to get out of the house before things got ugly, charting the progress of dad's trips to the liquor cabinet, fear of repurcussions after a neighbor stopped by- depending on what the neighbor would say and how dad would interpret it later, etc) was very relatable for me and extremely realistic and well written.   I could feel the trepidation, the 'one false move and he'll turn on me' kind of fear.  So my question is.. how did you know?  How were you able to nail this part?  Did you grow up with an alcoholic?

 

 Thanks so much.  You're wildly talented. 


 

 

Hey LisaMM80,

 

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you connected with it.

 

Yes, the little darknesses in the corners of the early chapters start to get a lot bigger in the BBQ chapter. 

 

Parental drinking habits aside, certainly across the book I'm drawing from what I know firsthand, and what I have observed in other people, in order to animate Benji's world. Taking what I have learned about what it is to be an adolescent, to have siblings, to listen to parents argue, to go out into the world, and shaping it into until it works as (some kind of) art.

 

And if I can take what I know, and present it in the right way, then maybe other people can recognize it as what they know as well.

 

How is that?

 

Colson


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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Hi Colson!

 

I really enjoyed the book, thank you so much for the opportunity to read it. It really brought me back to 1985. I haven't thought about the New Coke formula in a long time! Loved all the references of slang, that brought me back as well! Thanks! 

 

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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Mr. Whitehead,

You have a real gift for injecting humor into a serious subject which makes your book easy to digest and understand. I am really enjoying it. It is a comfortable book to read.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

twj

 

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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

From the second I picked up this book I have been hooked.  It resonates on a deeper level than most with me because I have experienced the environment you describe and it still exists. My family and friends gather yearly on Martha's Vineyard and although the people and scenery are different the elements of life are the same........who is here......is the lawn mowed.......kids are doing things that we don't think they are capable of at home but suddenly they have grown up......it just struck so close to home.  I find myself lingering over paragraphs and reliving MY experiences.  The "everydayness" of the items you do over and over from week to week and yet it still has an aura of "newness" to it because it only lasts a short time and then you pack up and head home to await it all over again next year.  I just want to congratulate you on what I'm sure will be a pleasant memory relived for all those who have been fortunate enough to experience the "summer island" lifestyle and an eyeopener for those who would love to MAKE it part of their life.  You have hit upon an experience that CANNOT be replaced in my life and thanks so much for sharing your take on it.  I look forward to completing the book and following your characters through their story.  I plan on purchasing copies for my 2 best friends who accompany me on this journey each year as well as my 3 sons, all of whom have been in your shoes as well. Thanks again and best of luck!!!

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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Thank-you Mr Whitehead for your book and my many laughs! 

I was wondering if starting with a topic, then stearing away from it, then back to it was a calculated action on your part; and if so, why?