New York Times best-selling novelist Colson Whitehead will deliver the keynote address at Connecticut College’s 99th Commencement on May 21, 2017. Whitehead is the author of seven novels and two works of nonfiction, and his work has also been published in the Village Voice, The New Yorker Magazine, The New York Times and Granta magazine. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship, the Dos Passos Prize and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.
His most recent novel, “The Underground Railroad,” has been called a “brave and necessary book” that uses the power of fiction to explore unspeakable truths about slavery and oppression. Winner of the 2016 Book Award for fiction, it was a selection of Oprah's Book Club 2.0, and was also chosen by President Barack Obama as one of five books on his summer vacation reading list. Time magazine also named the book the No. 1 novel of 2016.
A 1991 graduate of Harvard College, Whitehead began his career at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books and music. His first novel, “The Intuitionist,” was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and a winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award. His 2001 novel, “John Henry Days,” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. “Zone One,” his 2011 novel about post-apocalyptic New York City, was a New York Times Bestseller.
Whitehead has also taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, and been a Writer-in-Residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming.
At the Commencement ceremony, the College will confer on Whitehead an honorary degree. President Katherine Bergeron said the award reflects not only Whitehead’s achievements as an author, but also “his dedication to values that animate this community: academic excellence, personal integrity, and a commitment to social justice.”