This post was written by Katya Soto, an intern in the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress under the mentorship of Guy Lamolinara, researched by Sasha Dowdy
Welcome to Lit Bits! This is the second in a new series of book-related blog posts featuring video snippets from your favorite authors, many of whom have appeared at the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Our first post was on the Minerva’s Kaleidoscope blog, featuring children’s author and current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Meg Medina. Below is the first Lit Bit on the Bookmarked blog. Each blog will take turns publishing one Lit Bit per month.
This month’s feature is Colson Whitehead as he shares how he researched the background for his 2021 novel “Harlem Shuffle.” This clip is excerpted from his 2021 conversation with the director of New York’s Empire Center of the Book, Rocco Staino.
New York City. The 1980s.
This is the backdrop of Colson Whitehead’s childhood, and the circumstances could not have been better curated for this award-winning novelist to draw his inspiration from. Being raised in the city gave him a perspective that is reflected throughout his novels.
1980s New York was a city of the Radio City Rockettes, Gordon Parks and Keith Haring:
It was also the New York with a skyline that included the World Trade Center, a city that saw the ups and downs through many societal changes.
Most of Whitehead’s work pays tribute to the city’s distinctive history throughout various decades. “I feel like I’ve been blessed to live in a lot of different places where people I’ve idolized have walked or slept,” he said. His novels, “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” are Pulitzer Prize-winning novels influenced by real-life events that help illuminate the difficult realities of racism in America.
In “Harlem Shuffle,” he switches genres to write a crime story, exploring Harlem through the decades with a focus on the 1960s. Explore that world through these collection items in the Library’s digital repository:
In 2018, Whitehead became a part of the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. Two years later he was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. His most recent novel is “The Harlem Shuffle.” He continues the acclaimed Harlem saga with his upcoming novel, “Crook Manifesto,” due in July, 2023.
See the full video of the conversation here.
(Bonus image ) a dip into the vibrant 1930s Harlem:
Explore the collections and resources below for more immersion into the decades of Harlem and the world of crime fiction:
- Harlem Renaissance: //www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/harlem-renaissance/
- Photography Collection from 1930s-1960s, taken by American photographer Carl Van Vechten, which includes many figures from the Harlem Renaissance: //www.loc.gov/collections/van-vechten/about-this-collection/
- The Conjure-Man Dies Performance from 2022 National Book Festival: //www.loc.gov/item/webcast-10576/
- Crime Classics books from the Library of Congress: //www.loc.gov/publish/general/catalog/crimeclassics.html
What city is most familiar to you? How has it changed through the decades?