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Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


detailmuse wrote:

Colson_Whitehead wrote:

I've been following the posts since last week, and it has been an interesting experience.


Lots of authors talk about their writing process but this prompts me to ask about getting reader feedback. Have you had some memorable experiences on the street, at signings, via mail? And specifically, what's it like to log on here and read these threads? How do you incorporate -- or shake off -- feedback?


 

Detailmuse,

 

I don't really incorporate feedback because...the book is done! Too late to do anything about it now. And my next book will likely be so different from this one that general comments about my writing won't have any bearing on it...so...

 

It is very strange to read these threads, and see what people connect or don't connect to. I've certainly enjoyed the attention and care people have brought to talking about the book, and have been deeply grateful and flattered by some of the nice things people have said. Some people don't get it, but this book is not for everyone. This board is a cross-section of the readership out there -- there's no reason why everyone would be right audience for what I've done here.

 

When you ask about reader interaction, I think of readings. I've written enough books that I've been to the same cities and bookstores a bunch of times. And I'll look out into the audience sometimes and recognize someone who came to reading years before. I think, wow, they stuck with me! 

 

It's a very nice feeling.

 

Thanks

Colson


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Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


nytngale128 wrote:

This is not a question but a thank you. Sag Harbor wasn't just an eye opener in some about growing up and learning about life but it reminds me of many of the summers I had when I was growing up. I was very independent at a young age and grew up fast at the  age of 16 which was probably the age you were at time or close to it. As I was growing up I felt like my brothers (I was the oldest sister) were my children alot of the time. Did you feel like you were you brother's keeper? Do you feel like you grew up quicker than you should have?

Thanks for a great book!

 


 Hey,

 

Glad you enjoyed the book, thanks!

 

I'm one of four siblings, and the older ones always took care of the younger ones. Is that the way it is in most families. It saves a lot on babysitting, I realize now that I'm a father.

 

Did I grow up faster? Beats me! I wouldn't have it any other way...

 

All best 

 

Colson


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Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


sjj wrote:

Thank you Mr. Whitehead, for allowing us to read your book and to talk with you about it.  I had so many emotions as I read it - many times comparing the experiences of Benji and his friends to those my own sons went through (that I knew about), and my own life during this period that was Benji's formative years.  I was a teenager in the late 70's and early 80's, so many of the iconic images remain vivid.  I work in education and am troubled by racism that still occurs today, as well as stereotypes.  I found myself very troubled by the unspoken racism that occured, though I am conscious enough to know it still happens today.  I sensed that Benji and his friends just knew that was how it was.  Sometimes we wonder why behavior is the way it is, neglecting to see how we have encouraged it.  I just admire you for writing such a novel and I learned cultural norms that I would not have been introduced to if I had not read it. 

 

My questions to you would be, "What were your feelings after the novel was finished?  Did you see it as a piece of literature that could educate others?"

 

Thanks! Stephanie

 

 


 

Stephanie,

 

Thanks for the question...

 

I was very proud of this book when I was done. Usually I'm over a finished project very quickly, but this book was different. I had a real blast writing it, and I'm glad it'll be out in the world next month...

 

The book is what it is. I certainly don't want to educate anyone. I hope people enjoy it, can see some of themselves in the world I describe, and chuckle at the jokes.

 

All best

 

Colson

 


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Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


detailmuse wrote:

I read your cover letter’s characterization of Sag Harbor as your “Autobiographical Fourth Novel,” and anticipated a mostly real-life story that included some made-up/rearranged parts for storytelling purposes. I was happy about that, because it seems more honest than labeling something a memoir and then embellishing it. And I really enjoyed the book -- virtually every sentence (!) on its own, and then all of it together.

 

But now, I’m discouraged to read your posts here that disavow the autobiographical aspect. I went back and reread your letter: “The people are made up, but the streets and the houses are all real.”

 

“The people” -- including Benji? So how is it autobiographical (which refers to a life, not just a setting) vs “nostalgic,” or “historical,” etc.?


 

 

Detailmuse,

 

 

It's a novel, so that means it's made up. Autobiographical in that has a set-up (Sag Harbor, being a teenager in the '80s, being a dork) with which I am well-acquainted.

 

I can make no arguments for autobiographical vs. nostalgic vs. historial -- those are terms from the outside world, and didn't enter into my head when I sat down to write each day. 

 

If want to know how I would describe it really, I'd say: "a book."

 

All best 

 

Colson


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MelissaW
Posts: 40
Registered: ‎01-31-2007
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Mr. Whitehead,

 

Thank you for allowing us to read your book before it's publication date.  I have throughly enjoyed it and found it though provoking in many ways.

Inspired Wordsmith
eadieburke
Posts: 1,925
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson:

 

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed "Sag Habor". I feel as though I've been there through your book. Your excellent use of metaphors allows me to actually feel the experiences you describe. I have since purchased your other books as I love your style of writing.

 

My husband was born in Newark, NJ and when I first met him, he told me similar stories and adventures from his childhood. My favorite story was how he and his friends would fill up old milk cartons with all kinds of mud and sludge, place it along the curb and wait for the bus to come and crush it and splash all the people waiting for the bus. Sounds horrible but the way he told me really made me laugh.

 

Childhood days are so special and I think your book, "Sag Harbor" allows the reader to do just that - laugh and cry along with Benji and also remember their own childhood experiences.

 

Thanks again for the great visit to "Sag Harbor"

 

Eadie Burke

 

 

Eadie - A day out-of-doors, someone I loved to talk with, a good book and some simple food and music -- that would be rest. - Eleanor Roosevelt
lrc
Reader
lrc
Posts: 2
Registered: ‎02-05-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Thanks for sharing your book with this group.  Honestly, I never would have picked up this book to read from the store or library; it's just not my normal genre.  I'm finding that I'm enjoying each page and wondering what happens next.  I'm caring for your characters and enjoying their fun with them.  My question revolves around your finished product.  When you presented your book to the editor, did the editor cut anything out or make you change anything drastically so that you feel like it's not what you wanted to get across?  I read about things like that happening and I'm not sure how the relationships between editors and authors are in that area. 

 

Also, it seems like some posters may feel sorry for your characters and maybe even you, as it's mentioned that this is autobiographical, in regards to the incidents that happen.  I'm wondering, did these occurrences really effect you in such a way, or you're just more mature, see them as they were and have moved on (family fighting, etc) and have decided to laugh at them/embrace them/discusss them through this book?  Using the writing of your book as therapy per se?

 

Thanks for letting all of us ask our questions and being with us for the discussion! :-)

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PinkBaby
Posts: 83
Registered: ‎09-03-2008
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

i want to know if benji and reggies family is based on you. since you said the houses and streets are real.:smileyhappy:
Frequent Contributor
Darbys_Closet
Posts: 29
Registered: ‎11-30-2008
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson,

I appreciate your answer to the question posed by the NY Times as to you and Benji!

You can't help yet wonder if you two are one and the same....I'm not sure if not knowing is more of a benefit to the reader vs. knowing.  Perhaps you might want to place that "blurb" on your books back cover or in the inside as an author's note.

Thanks for sharing!

Darby

Wordsmith
kpatton
Posts: 206
Registered: ‎11-27-2006
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Mr. Whitehead,

I am reiterating what so many before me have said- thank you for sharing your book with me.  I have enjoyed reading the questions posed by others and have nothing else to ask.  I did want to let you know how much I enjoyed the book.  As another reader commented, I loved your way with words and several of the passages quite poetic.  As I read a book, I use sticky notes to mark something I found interesting or particularly meaningful to me.  Knowing that I was a part of a book discussion this also helped me with my responses.  What surprised me was that when I finished the book, how many sticky notes were placed throughout the book.  I truly enjoyed Sag Harbor.

Kathy 

Distinguished Correspondent
chris227
Posts: 111
Registered: ‎12-02-2008
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson,

 

  I too want to thank you for sharing your book with us!  I think that the book is fantastic.  I have found myself reading several passages out loud to my husband.  You have created wonderful characters and I feel greatly connected to them.  Thi is a wonderful commentary of adolescence that resonates across race and generations.  As a thirty year old white woman I could still relate to the many feelings and some experiences of Benji.  I absolutely loves the parts about new Coke and Campbell's soup.  You interwove serious topics (like an alcoholic and abusive father) with humor in such a way to create a truly remarkable work.  I can't wait to go find more of your books! 

 

Christina

Correspondent
detailmuse
Posts: 180
Registered: ‎01-24-2008
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Hi again, Colson. I understand the recording industry is notoriously tight with permissions, to the extent that writers shouldn't include lyrics even in a first draft because they'll eventually have to come out.

 

This may have been a question for the editor, but I hadn't finished the book before his time here had passed -- I'm wondering how difficult it was, and what the process was, to be able to include so many lyrics in your novel?

Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Hi Colson,

I am finding that some sections of your book seem more connected then other sections.

 Some of the flashbacks and skipping from one event to another and then back, is a little confusing.

Like the section where the boys are going to the Bayside club, mixed in with uncle Nelson (back and forth with that story) and pg. 210 and 216 seem rambling. 

 I really liked the section where you describe Benji's relationship with his parents and wish I had some of that information earlier in the book.

 

 

Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

[ Edited ]

lrc wrote:

Thanks for sharing your book with this group.  Honestly, I never would have picked up this book to read from the store or library; it's just not my normal genre.  I'm finding that I'm enjoying each page and wondering what happens next.  I'm caring for your characters and enjoying their fun with them.  My question revolves around your finished product.  When you presented your book to the editor, did the editor cut anything out or make you change anything drastically so that you feel like it's not what you wanted to get across?  I read about things like that happening and I'm not sure how the relationships between editors and authors are in that area. 

 

Also, it seems like some posters may feel sorry for your characters and maybe even you, as it's mentioned that this is autobiographical, in regards to the incidents that happen.  I'm wondering, did these occurrences really effect you in such a way, or you're just more mature, see them as they were and have moved on (family fighting, etc) and have decided to laugh at them/embrace them/discusss them through this book?  Using the writing of your book as therapy per se?

 

Thanks for letting all of us ask our questions and being with us for the discussion! :-)


 

lrc,

 

Thanks for your thoughful post.

 

Bill Thomas is a great editor -- wise, insightful and incredibly supportive. I guess you hear about changes being made that the writer has not signed off on, but that's never happened to me. What real editor/publishing house would allow such a thing?

 

 

As for the rest of the question, see my response to pinkbaby below!

 

All best

 

Colson

Message Edited by Colson_Whitehead on 03-07-2009 01:40 PM

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Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

[ Edited ]

PinkBaby wrote:
i want to know if benji and reggies family is based on you. since you said the houses and streets are real.:smileyhappy:

 

PinkBaby,

 

As famous First Look Book participant sczjames once said:

 

"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."

 

 

Words to live by!

 

Thanks!

 

Colson

Message Edited by Colson_Whitehead on 03-07-2009 01:25 PM

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Author
Colson_Whitehead
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎01-22-2009
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?


detailmuse wrote:

Hi again, Colson. I understand the recording industry is notoriously tight with permissions, to the extent that writers shouldn't include lyrics even in a first draft because they'll eventually have to come out.

 

This may have been a question for the editor, but I hadn't finished the book before his time here had passed -- I'm wondering how difficult it was, and what the process was, to be able to include so many lyrics in your novel?


 

detailmuse,

 

 

It's a pain, but yes you have to pay permissions fees for song lyrics before you print them, and the fees range from (relatively) large for The Carpenters, to not so much for Run DMC. 

 

It takes awhile to track down all the owners...and is a real pain...Luckily the good people at Doubleday took care of all the paperwork. It's definitely a consideration, though, if you want to shell out all that money, and and take care of foreign publicaton rights as well.

 

 

Hope you have a nice weekend

 

Colsob


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Vermontcozy
Posts: 5,279
Registered: ‎10-20-2008
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

You survived!!! Your book brought back so many memories,LIE, music,language,feelings,and big transitions for all of us in the 80's.90's, it became for me a kinder world,and the separation wasn't as significant .Enjoy your Family,and never stop writing and sharing with us...Vtc.....
Kindness,I've discovered,is everything in life...Issac Bashevis Singer
Distinguished Correspondent
Thayer
Posts: 195
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson,  One of the things I most like about this book club is that we enjoy the opportunity to read books that some of us would probably not choose for ourselves. Thus we are fortunate to be introduced to  writers of immense talent such as yourself, that otherwise we might have missed out on.

 

When I received my copy, I was surprised at the lack of artwork on the cover. For a moment I was taken aback as so many of our choices tend to be visual. As I finished your delightful work, I think it  ironic that alot of the conversation has leaned toward the  judgemental aspects of our society based on visual perception. Who ever said "you can't judge a book by its cover" was spot on. What a shame humanity is not more inclined.

 

My question is this, as a former critic yourself, is it hard for you to "put your work out there" to be scrutinized, dissected and frankly, at times, possibly over-analyzed? (I am surprised no one has brought up your signature on the book's cover. That curve at the crest of your h HAS to mean something, right?)  :smileywink:

 

I enjoyed your book immensely and plan to purchase your other books as well. I am anxious to explore the diversity of your work. Thank you for such a wonderful book and for your time and patience with us all.

 

 

 

~~Dawn
Live the life you love ~ Love the life you live.
Frequent Contributor
artist4nature
Posts: 32
Registered: ‎09-02-2007
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Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

I have enjoyed reading your advanced copy of "Sag Harbor" - thanks for the opportunity.

 

I would like to know who are your favorite authors?

 

 Have you read "Two Rivers" by T. Greenwood or "Blonde Roots" by Bernadine Evaristo.

Both of these book deal with issues of race.

 

Looking forward to your next endeavor.   JP

Correspondent
m3girl
Posts: 194
Registered: ‎03-02-2007

Re: Questions for Colson Whitehead?

Colson,

I think you have created a wonderful story here.  I fell behind in my reading due to the urgency of a few other projects but am now able to read and hopefully get caught up quickly.  

I especially like the voice of the narrator - how he sees things and his humor are absolutely fantastic.

He's sort of like Harry Potter - not the wizard stuff - but in the way that I fell in love with Harry from the start - I think the same may be happening with Benji/Ben.  He's quite lovable.

I will be recommending your book to my other reading friends.  Thanks for letting us read this in First Look.

Susan