During his Santa Barbara residency last week, author Colson Whitehead held many events as part of the Thematic Learning Initiative, including learning circles expanding events for adult learners. Colton's time at UCSB began with a Q&A at the Santa Barbara library with a group of writers, moderated by Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle.
Next, Colson had a dinner with about 10 community members at the UCSB Mosher Alumni house. Here Colson and attendees had informal discussions about his book, and had the chance to get to know the author a little bit better in a small setting.
Following the dinner, Colson spoke at the main event in Campbell Hall where he told the audience about himself and his writing process and delivered captivating readings from his book. Throughout his presentation, Colson made the audience both laugh at his personal anecdotes and sit in silence while listening to difficult depictions of slave realities. Many audience members enjoyed asking questions and getting their books signed with a personal message from Colson.
On Thursday morning, Colson went to San Marcos high school to give an assembly with approximately 200 11th and 12th grade students in English an History classes about his award winning book, The Underground Railroad. Colson described the students as, "the best group of teenagers that I have talked to in my experience." He described how they asked smart questions about social topics they likely were confronting for the first time.
Colson then went to lead an interactive Q&A with about 30 people at UCSB's Multicultural Center.
Following his time at UCSB's Multicultural center, Colson had dinner with community advocates. Colson concluded his time in Santa Barbara with an learning circle event at the Santa Barbara library. Guests were invited to an interactive Q&A session about 200 community members, moderated by senior librarian Molly Wetta with Colson about The Underground Railroad. Many attendees were interested in the historical accuracy and inspiration for the book. Colson described how after having the idea for the book, he waited until he thought he had the maturity to approach the topic. Then he dove into the research on slavery to be rejuvenated and continue the writing process, but notes that this book is fiction and should be read as such. He described his book as similar to Gulliver's Travels in that each state in the book represented an alternate America and experience of slavery. With this sensitive topic, Colson explained that at times it is a difficult book to read and also to write, but the artistic process allowed him to write in a way that he could separate from difficult scenes and not be consumed by them. Lastly, Colson and attendees described the social implications of reading this book such as confronting his own bias writing from a female protagonist point of view, encouraging people to reckon with how slavery may have benefitted their family in the past, bringing up good points of discussion for families and kids, how racism and discrimination may still be occurring today, and developing empathy.
Just after finishing his time in Santa Barbara. Colson's book, The Underground Railroad, won a Pulitzer Prize! Read more about it here.