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All of Colson Whitehead’s Books in Order!
Who is Colson Whitehead?
Arch Colson Chipp Whitehead is an American author mostly known for his fiction novels—but he also published non-fiction books, essays and short stories in The New Yorker.
After graduating from Harvard University in 1991, he started working for The Village Voice. During that time, he began drafting his first novels.
In 2002, he received a MacArthur Genius Grant, won two Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (in 2017 and 2020), the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, and a lot more.
The most famous and celebrated books written Colson Whitehead are The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys.
How to read Colson Whitehead’s Books in Order?
Colson Whitehead’s novels
What follows is a list of Colson Whitehead’s fiction books. At the end of this article, you’ll find his non-fiction work.
- The Intuitionist (1998)
- John Henry Days (2001)
- Apex Hides the Hurt (2006)
- Sag Harbor (2009)
- Zone One (2011)
- The Underground Railroad (2016)
- The Nickel Boys (2019)
The Ray Carney Series
- Harlem Shuffle (2021)
- Crook Manifesto (2023)
What is the plot of Colson Whitehead’s novels?
For more information about the books written by Colson Whitehead, you’ll find below the official synopsis for all the books:
The Intuitionist (1999) – It is a time of calamity in a major metropolitan city’s Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. There are two warring factions within the department: the Empiricists, who work by the book and dutifully check for striations on the winch cable and such; and the Intuitionists, who are simply able to enter the elevator cab in question, meditate, and intuit any defects. Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae’s watch, chaos ensues.
John Henry Days (2001) – J. Sutter is a young black journalist. Sutter is a “junketeer,” a freeloading hack who roams from one publicity event to another, abusing his expense account and mooching as much as possible. It is 1996, and an assignment for a travel Web site takes Sutter to West Virginia for the first annual “John Henry Days” festival, a celebration of a new U.S. postal stamp honoring John Henry. And there the real story of John Henry emerges in graceful counterpoint to Sutter’s thoroughly modern adventure.
Apex Hides the Hurt (2006) – The town of Winthrop has decided it needs a new name. The resident software millionaire wants to call it New Prospera; the mayor wants to return to the original choice of the founding black settlers; and the town’s aristocracy sees no reason to change the name at all. What they need, they realize, is a nomenclature consultant. And, it turns out, the consultant needs them. But in a culture overwhelmed by marketing, the name is everything and our hero’s efforts may result in not just a new name for the town but a new and subtler truth about it as well.
Sag Harbor (2009) – Benji Cooper is one of the few Black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. But every summer, Benji escapes to the Hamptons, to Sag Harbor, where a small community of Black professionals have built a world of their own. The summer of ’85 won’t be without its usual trials and tribulations, of course. There will be complicated new handshakes to fumble through and state-of-the-art profanity to master. Benji will be tested by contests big and small, by his misshapen haircut (which seems to have a will of its own), by the New Coke Tragedy, and by his secret Lite FM addiction. But maybe, just maybe, this summer might be one for the ages.
Zone One (2011) – A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown’s Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One. Mark Spitz is a member of one of the three-person civilian sweeper units tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of the remaining feral zombies. Zone One unfolds over three surreal days in which Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world. And then things start to go terribly wrong…
The Underground Railroad (2016) – Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.
The Nickel Boys (2019) – When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
Harlem Shuffle (2021) – To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Ray Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. His cousin Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – the “Waldorf of Harlem” – and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.
Crook Manifesto (2023) – Sequel to Harlem Shuffle. 1976. Harlem is burning, block by block, while the whole country is gearing up for Bicentennial celebrations. Carney is trying to come up with a July 4th ad he can live with. (“Two Hundred Years of Getting Away with It!”), while his wife Elizabeth is campaigning for her childhood friend, the former assistant D.A and rising politician Alexander Oakes. When a fire severely injures one of Carney’s tenants, he enlists Pepper to look into who may be behind it. Our crooked duo have to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent, and the utterly corrupted.
Colson Whitehead’s non-fiction books
The Colossus of New York (2003) – A masterful evocation of the city that never sleeps, The Colossus of New York captures the city’s inner and outer landscapes in a series of vignettes, meditations, and personal memories.
The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death (2014) – In 2011, Grantland magazine gave bestselling novelist Colson Whitehead $10,000 to play at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It was the assignment of a lifetime, except for one hitch—he’d never played in a casino tournament before. With just six weeks to train, our humble narrator took the Greyhound to Atlantic City to learn the ways of high-stakes Texas Hold’em.
What should you read if you like Colson Whitehead’s novels?
If you like reading Colson Whitehead’s stories, you may be interested in Ishmael Reed, Robert Jones, Jr., Robert Christgau, Victor LaValle…
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