02-28-2009 07:20 PM
02-28-2009 11:25 PM
Your book is so funny...and even though you are writing as a young black man, I can relate to the experiences and feelings you describe (a white woman). It facinates me that life is like that...there is a certain universality to being human and the growth experiences and yet there are such differences between generations, genders and races. I love that "messiness" of life, even as it frustrates the hell out of me! And books that can be hilarious and heartbreaking and can reflect that really resonate with me, so thank you for writing something so enjoyable to read!
Anyway, I wondered what your father's reaction to your book is, or if he is not still with us, what was the reaction to other family members? I could so relate to your descriptions of him--it was as if you were writing about my own dad in some ways. Also, how did you decide where to start in your book and what incidents to write about? It seems to me that some of the most interesting parts are just those tiny slices of life that hardly seem worth writing about, and I am wondering as a writer how you decide to put them together the way you did.
It is a great book, and again, thank you!
03-01-2009 12:33 AM
I am SO enjoying your novel. I really don't want it to end. Your writing is superb and I plan to be a loyal reader. I'm hooked!
There's a part in the book (p.61) were you and Marcus are comparing Kraftwerk's original tune from Trans Europe Express as it's found in the music of Afrika Bambaataa's new work.
You explain that you didn't understand back then why Marcus was having a problem with the idea of you pointing it out or suggesting that it was "stolen", but that you "get it now"... that the art was converting it to a new use and you explained that you didn't say this at the time and you didn't know even know it yourself at the time.
I realize that this event may not have actually happened to you. However, I was touched by how it resembled little moments that happened in my past and how I would love to have an opportunity to perhaps explain myself to my friends in retrospect...now that I HAVE the words. I know this is a small thing, but so many times I've looked back to moments from the past with long-lost friends and have sometimes wished I could explain to them now what some of those little things really meant to me.
I'm not sure if this was expressed eloquently enough, but my question is this:
Do you feel that parts of this book will prove to be therapeutic in allowing you to explain a few things to some people you care about? or are events so entirely fictionalized that no one you know would really recognize anything of note?
"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
03-01-2009 11:45 AM
This is my first experience of your work and "first look" and I really appreciate your willingness to share your journey this way. I am really enjoying the book and I am finding that it is not a quick read as I originally thought. You appear to purposefully shift the style of the language between the two worlds that Ben is living in and I am wondering if that is my projection or your intention.
I really enjoyed Ben's reflection on "hacky sack" and other activities that his white friends engage in and how he sees the value in those activities (reflective and funny - thanks). I particularly enjoyed and even felt his apprehension when the new handshakes were breaking out for the first time.
Thank you for representing the "particulars" of both races so eloquently. After all everybody really is "faking it."
03-01-2009 01:40 PM
03-01-2009 01:46 PM
Welcome and thank you for joining us. I'm really enjoying your writing. I watched your video on YouTube and seeing you walk around Sag Harbor gave me a little more perspective on the book.
The passage that always sticks in my mind is on page 3 where you describe Ben and Reggie as " butt to butt, more or less looking like a Rorschach test." Great!!
Questions - how much of Ben is Colson? And when did you start writing?
There's a bit about "autobiography" on the first page -- hope that answers your Benji/Colson question.
When did I start writing? I knew in 5th grade that I wanted write comic books -- Spider-Man, X-men -- because it seemed like a good gig. Think up weird stuff, work at home, etc...
Eventually in high school, that transformed into the idea that I would write horror fiction...I was a big H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King and Clive Barker fan.
I wrote two crappy short stories in college, and tried to get into writing classes, to no avail. It was really once I got out of school and started working for the Village Voice -- scribbling music, TV, and book reviews -- that I learned how to write. Writing to make the rent is a good incentive to step up your game.
03-01-2009 01:55 PM
I hope it's all right to ask you a question that isn't specifically Sag Harbor related, but more writing in general. Has it always been your dream to be a writer or did you start off on another pursuit and found this was your place to be? Do you have a certain protocol you follow when sitting down to write a book, like do you already have an idea in place or characters in mind that you would like to tell a story about? Just a little curious as to how a writer's mind works.
I've always wanted to write, it seems -- in fact, the realization that I wasn't cut out for any other job ensured that I would have to write. I didn't have a choice. As I said right above, I didn't know exactly what kind of stuff I'd work on -- comics or genre fiction or whatever -- but I knew it would in some way involve putting words together.
As for how my books evolve, sometimes I have an intellectual problem I want to explore ("How do I update the industrial age anxiety myth of John Henry for the information age?") and other times I have an impulse and follow it ("Write some impressionistic essays about New York City.")
In the former case, the premise comes first and then I try to figure out characters and a story that "work" for it, making a strong outline before I start writing. (The outline changes, of course, once I start writing and the book goes its own way.)
With this book, I had a time and place...and I had to figure out how to make it live for other people the way it lived in my head.
03-01-2009 01:58 PM
Why did Benji go back to Jonni Waffle and open the freezers doors during the black out?
I am really enjoying the book. Most of us can remember our youth, we did not always think everything through.
I have a cousin that lost his eye when he was shot with a bb gun. Benji was very lucky.
Thanks for the question. I can't spell out Benji's actions any further -- it wouldn't be true to the book. In the thread about Jonni Waffle & Martine, some of your fellow book club folks have put forth some hypotheses, and perhaps that can be of some help...
Thanks for the kind words, and for taking the time to read the book!
03-01-2009 02:03 PM
Hi again Mr. Whitehead. Another question for you.......what kind of response, if any, do you anticipate to receive from people who have become characters in Benji's life?
And a comment, at first I thought Sag Harbor was going to be a light and breezy recollection but I have found that it is actually quiet deep and touches on many thought provoking subjects. It is an enjoyable and stimulating read.
Glad you were surprised about where the book ended up going...I was hoping that would happen...
The response I've had from people who were out there in 1985 has been positive so far. I'm told the book brings back a lot of memories of that time and place, so I feel I've done a good job of capturing the community out there. And paying tribute to that time.
03-01-2009 02:15 PM
I joined the first look club because I didn't want to wait to read your book--and now I don't have to bother you with questions while you're on vacation this summer.
I'm a big fan of everything you write, but this one has special resonance for me. Sag Harbor is a special place, and the effect those neighborhoods had/have on young black kids is so strong. Much of what you write feels like an echo of sentiments my husband (C Weber) has explained to me over the years. I laughed out loud at the section about a watermelon on Main Street. I think that was one of the first "rules" I learned when I met him: never eat watermelon or fried chicken in front of white people. So, in a way, as I read Benji's story, I feel like I'm gaining perspective on some of C's formative years.
So here's my question: Regarding the idea of double-consciousness, do you think our kids will feel that duality as strongly as Benji and his friends did? Has our society changed enough that kids can be who they are, and their "blackness" or "whiteness" isn't so all-defining? With my own daughter, who goes to a predominantly white school, it seems that kids don't feel the same need to define their pop culture as belonging to only one race. They have their preferences, but share openly among each other. My daughter, who's not a fan of hip-hop or rap, will still come home happily singing "Notorious" because one of the kids on the bus taught it to her. They all seem open to exploring and accepting; they ridicule people they suspect are racist. What I see with my daughter is that this openness among peers seems to remove that pressure to behave in some preconceived way. She is who she is, and she genuinely seems okay with that...so far.
As she (too quickly) approaches her teenage years, I wonder, will she feel that same need to become "more black" when she's in Azurest? I know you don't have a crystal ball, but what's your opinion? Will Sag have the same significance for the next generation as it did for yours?
Thanks for a great read.
Hey "A reader68,"
I'm so glad you liked it, as a neighbor and pal. Say hi to the family, and I'll see you in a few months!
I do think that teenagers, and kids around my daughter's age (4), view and live race differently than our generation did. For reasons that are a little difficult to pin down, and reasons that are really obvious...like the election.
For example, I wore a tie two night ago (I never wear a tie) and my daughter said, "You look like the President." Can you image what a fundamental re-ordering of the world that means. It's crazy!
I don't know how "acting white" and "not black enough"-ness will play out ten years from now, or how it plays out now, for that matter. I'm optimistic...
Certainly we should be able to take or leave Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" as we see fit, without fear!
In terms of the Azurest community, the place has changed so much. Are there gangs of boy and girls who still come out and hang out together, the way me and my friends did? That's the big crystal ball question -- what kind of Sag Harbor will they find a few years from now.
Good to hear from you. All best,
03-01-2009 02:16 PM
I am very close to finishing Sag Harbor, and I wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed reading it. It is somewhat different from the books I have chosen in the past, but I am enjoying the writing style a lot. So, at the risk of being redundant, thanks so much for making this book available to us! Now for my question, can you share with us what made you decide to make this book available to B&N First Look?
03-01-2009 02:18 PM
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 again for joining the first look club, I really enjoyed your book and being able to read it ahead of publishing. I too had the question of why the freezer door was left open, and did the sister have a problem with the fathers drinking?
Thanks for being an early adopter.
And thanks for the question -- although if I wanted to spell it out more, I would have spelled it out more. It's really up to your interpretation.
In the threads specific to Chapter 3, you may find some discussions that are helpful.
03-01-2009 02:34 PM
03-01-2009 02:48 PM
Hi Saundra..Colson has a way of bringing us back and forth,in and out,and still keeps me wondering..I have finished the book,and my Daughter took it home today...to enjoy as much as I have..and will continue to read his other books...I just wanted to ask you one question,did you really mean it when you stated "After all Everybody is really faking it.I just don't think its as bad as it was,if fact my daughter who is 24,College Grad,Ny...does not ever see the color of a persons skin,to give her reason not to be friends..If they are not good ,kind,intelligent thats her criteria....I believe with her generation, we are getting closer than ever to a real acceptance,her genrations thought process is different(it doesn't hurt having me as her Mom)her Dad is they same..I am 50...so all I can say,I could never fake it,and I hope no one is faking it as far as you are concerned...VTC...Susan
I really don't think that race had anything to do with what Saundra was talking about. (Forgive me, Saundra, if I'm out of line in speaking for you.)
I took it as "Faking it" as in "fake it 'til you make it", (e.g. pretending we have the situation under control and "figured out"). As far as I know...there is not a one of us who has it all figured out all the time and there are times when we have to pretend like we do. This system usually works out just fine, because things tend to become much clearer as we go along.
"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
03-01-2009 02:49 PM
Dude! Interesting book...I love your sense of humor...reminds me of mine! The way you swirl adjectives and adverbs through the text reminds me of a masterpiece sundae! I guess that ice cream store experience came in handy, huh?
I am noticing more and more releases of fiction written in first person. Have your observations been similar? I have to tell you in all honesty (the only way I know to be)....the writing style reminds me so much of "Love in the Time of Cholera" but yours is much more engaging. (Thank God!) Since I have not had the pleasure of reading your other novels tell me, is your style similar to this?
Thanks for this book....a good read!
I don't know if there's a new wave of first-person narratives coming out lately. It seems to me that there are always a good number of them, i.e., there's no fad going on now or anything.
This is the first time I've used a first person narrator. I didn't know how to pull it off for an entire book until now. The various narrators' voices in my other books are pretty different, but who knows, maybe you'll like them.
Thanks for playing,
03-01-2009 03:19 PM
Hi Colson, I wanted to add to the focus of race that A_Reader68 wrote about. It is great that the experience of reader 68's child in a predominantly white school seems so positive. It is a wonderful feeling to feel that our country has improved greatly in certain areas of the country at least, in regard to race relations. I am curious about your experience at Harvard, should you care to comment. I enjoyed your Utube video and saw that you come across as perhaps slightly preppy ( maybe an updated style of that type), with plenty of good humor and charm that you show in your writing. Have you experienced first hand changes for the better in regard to this topic of race. I thought that in Sag Harbor the perceptions about whites started out very negatively and then seemed to get less talked about as the characters moved on to other things. Why was that,?Is it just that the characters moved on to other things, that their perceptions got less negative . Also do your other books deal with the the racial issue? I have totally enjoyed your book and l look forward to reading other books of yours.
I'm not sure what you mean about "I thought that in Sag Harbor the perceptions about whites started out very negatively and then seemed to get less talked about as the characters moved on to other things. Why was that,?Is it just that the characters moved on to other things, that their perceptions got less negative ."
Could you be more specific?
As for the "race issue," that would be a yes in that it is one of a number subjects I explore in my work. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It depends on the project...
03-01-2009 07:34 PM
Dear Mr. Whitehead,
I am always very excited to read a book that promises to bring me into a world that seems so different from mine. One of the best things a book can do for me is to get me inside the head of another person; to see their thoughts developing, understand their experiences and feel their feelings. While I am only a few years older than Benji and Reggie, I grew up in a very different part of the country and in a very different family. It has been wonderful to feel myself inside Benji's head and find both striking similarities and vast differences between our lives. At first I kept stopping to step back and ponder, "Is this the real part or the autobiographical part?". But soon I realized that it didn't matter and just plunged in and enjoyed the literary ride. Thanks for the book and best of luck to you in the future.
03-01-2009 07:43 PM
Hi Colson, I reread the beginning of the book and now don't feel that there is more anger toward whites at the beginning of the book than later on. I think it had to do more with my perceptions and I think I was adjusting to the experience of what these kids were going through as well as to what they were thinking. I was entering their world and felt defensive! The beginning of the book was the jumpstart which helped me to see things the way they did, e.g. their need to be vigilant, fears of the KKK lurking nearby, and their experiences with whites who were could not see them as individuals but rather as stereotypes, such as children of diplomats from the UN because they were in their oxford shirts, or as a token black which assuaged the conscience of a white liberal like Mr. Finklestein, who could accept Benji as his daughter's friend. The many more experiences they had with racial biases occurred thoughout the book, but by then I was acclimated to their views and could enjoy the writing, the humor, and the wisdom of your book.
03-01-2009 09:04 PM
Colson, I finished your book this afternoon, laughing out loud at times as I read and feeling pensive as well. The story is thoughtful and entertaining. I'm wondering why you chose not to end your book with a "where are they now?" character summary. At the end of "The Gangsters" chapter, you alluded to future realities; however, I was left hanging, wondering what happened to the major characters as they grew into early adulthood and beyond. Does your ending signal a follow up to Benji's/Ben's story? Thanks for sharing your book with First Look.
03-01-2009 11:30 PM
Dear Mr Whitehead
On your website I discovered, much to my pleasant surprise, that you're scheduled to visit Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA this May. I live in the Boston area, and I definitely plan to come to your reading, and introduce myself.
Porter Square Books is a wonderful privately owned bookstore, and is well-known in the community for its author readings. I'll need to buy a brand-new first edition of "Sag Harbor" for you to autograph.
My ARC copy has far too many pencil markings on the margins... a testamonial to your fine writing... and my in-depth reading.
This isn't a question... just a nice welcome to Cambridge in May!
"I am a part of everything that I have read."