All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
We’ve had crushes like this before: Lorrie Moore. Tobias Wolff. Mark Strand. Oh, there have been others. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve scanned the status updates of a good number of anonymous Lighthousers lately, and, well… Colson Whitehead made an impression. If you couldn’t make it out to his Studio events, we’re trying to ameliorate the situation. Today’s installment: photos thanks to Lynn Clark photography (see the rest of her handiwork on our Facebook page) and the beautiful intro from Eli Gottlieb.
I’m really happy to introduce Colson Whitehead today. Colson has achieved all the important cultural distinctions—the heavy laurel leaves on the brow of the Macarthur Prize, the Whiting Award, a slew of others, and his presence on nearly all the lists of important young American novelists. He’s achieved these distinctions in recognition of the diagnostic sharpness of vision that he turns on us, his fellow citizens, and the beauty and the singularity of the form in which he expresses that eyesight.
I’m happy he’s here because he’s a complete original, who writes like someone linguistically double-jointed. He writes like he has the keys to the lexical kingdom and he’s gonna turn them and open the door. There’s not a single sentence that he can’t explode, make curl, pop, blow up big, and swerve back down. The only thing he can’t do as a writer is dull. And he pulls off this stylistic magic without ever rubbing your face in it and by anchoring it always in compelling human particulars.
Race, technology, branding, the intimate texture of urban life, the comedy and codes of adolescence, the sadness and the hackery at the center of so much of professionalism—these get run through his story-making machine, and what comes out are books which rough up the academic distinctions that people like to make between literary and non, popular and elitist, high and low. He’s a restless experimentalist who gets restless with experimentalism too and then writes a big-hearted, straight-ahead novel like Sag Harbor. All of what he does, from his first to his most recent book, is illuminating, in the best and most redemptive sense of that word. The man simply shines a light. And boy do we need it.
And, let’s be honest. He totally delivered.