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2017 Common Reader

Photo by Madeline Whitehead

Pulitzer-winning ‘Underground Railroad’ selected as First Year Common Reader

The Underground Railroad, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Colson Whitehead, has been selected as the University of Delaware’s 2017 First Year Common Reader.

Through the First Year Common Reader program, selected works are read by UD first year students before arriving on campus for the fall semester in conjunction with other events.

Whitehead’s novel tells the story of Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia who takes a terrifying risk and escapes in a desperate bid for freedom.

The author’s imagination has conjured up an Underground Railroad that is not just a metaphor but a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil, with Cora encountering different worlds at various stages of her journey.

The book is the winner of both the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in fiction and the 2016 National Book Award, and also is a New York Times bestseller.

The Pulitzer board called the book “a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

In presenting the National Book Award, the National Book Foundation wrote in its judges’ citation that “The Underground Railroad confirms Colson Whitehead’s reputation as one of our most daring and inventive writers. A suspenseful tale of escape and pursuit, it combines elements of fantasy and the counter-factual with an unflinching, painfully truthful depiction of American slavery. Whitehead revisits the grotesque barbarities of our nation’s history in the interest of our common stake in freedom and dignity. He has given us an electrifying narrative of the past, profoundly resonant with the present.”

Whitehead is the author of The Noble Hustle, Zone OneSag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York.

A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.

About the First Year Common Reader

The First Year Common Reader is a unique opportunity for students to engage in a meaningful conversation with fellow students and to begin to share in the intellectual life of the entire UD community. 

The book is read before arriving on campus with speakers, films and other cultural events organized around the theme of the book throughout the first semester.

Previous common readers have included When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka, Equal Justice, by Bryan Stevenson; Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel; My Beloved World, by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo; and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

For more information on the Common Reader, visit the website.


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