A few days ago, on April 10, in recognition of the anniversary of Joseph Pulitzer’s birthday, a small group gathered at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, in a room named after him, to announce the next group of writers who would continue Pulitzer’s legacy by adding his name to their list of accomplishments.
Earlier this year, I read one of Whitehead’s collection of essays and was engrossed by his writing, the deftness with which he crafted a memory and shaped it with sentences. I had such high hopes for his novel.
And then a few weeks ago, I read The Underground Railroad and had a very ambiguous reaction. There were flashes of recollection where I remembered how I had loved his writing just a few short months ago. But then there were moments where I despised the story and wondered how other people seemed to like it so. Why didn’t they see what I saw? And as it was my first time reading a novel before it received such a prestigious award, I am glad I read it before the prize announcement because now I know my reaction is truly my own, and not one that was influenced by my own lusting after the prize. You see, like most other writers, perhaps, I live for the day when I win the prize myself. But not yet. These things take time and I am nothing if not patient. But back to Whitehead’s day in the sun.
Now that I know The Underground Railroad has been so highly esteemed by Whitehead’s peers, I will reread it. I owe him that. The opportunity to wow me even if it’s a reaction that’s coerced. There have been times when I loved a book much better the second time around. Maybe this will be the case. There were definite problems that I had with the plot and the characterizations but overall, in the weeks since my reading, I have found myself thinking about the story and wishing I enjoyed it more than I did. Hopefully, now, I will. Taking away the mystique of wondering how the book ends, I will let Whitehead’s words transport me again to a time and place I’ve never wanted to visit, especially not more than once, and live Cora’s adventure alongside her.
How does the announcement of a prize affect you? Does it make you like a book of movie or song more because it has won an award?