The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead Released July 16
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (author of the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad) released on July 16, 2019. As soon as I read this interview from The Nation, I immediately added The Nickel Boys to my to-read list.
About THE NICKEL BOYS (from the publisher’s website):
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Where Colson Whitehead’s Voice Comes From
While Colson Whitehead might have grown up wanting to be the black Stephen King, I think he found his own voice along the way.
I’m fascinated with what makes other writers tick. Where do they get their ideas? What shapes their writer voices? Why do they decide to write one idea over another? And maybe most importantly, where do they get the courage to speak truths that other writers shy away from, and therefore making their writer voices truly unique?
In the interview, Whitehead explains, in depth, the types of subjects that influence his writing. You get a sense that he wants his readers to gain a true understanding for the horrors of this world, from the past and that still exist, maybe in hopes that we learn from our mistakes.
“If we don’t think about how we got here, we’re going to repeat the same mistakes we’ve been making for generations and generations.”
Whitehead Also Has Advice for Writers
“My advice to writers is, stay at home and work. Don’t go out. It’s not very sexy advice.”
He also dives into advice for white writers tackling race.
Be sure to read the entire interview to see why it left me feeling inspired as an author and ready to download The Nickel Boys today.