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Colson Whitehead: The Nickel Boys w/ Clint Smith
July 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm$31.16
Please note, this event has been moved from St. Ann’s Church to St. Francis College’s Founder’s Hall, which is air conditioned.
Books Are Magic is proud to host Pulitzer Prize–winning author Colson Whitehead for his new novel, The Nickel Boys!
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Colson Whitehead is the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, he lives in New York City.
Clint Smith is a writer, teacher, and doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He is a recipient of fellowships from the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, the Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. His first full-length collection of poetry, Counting Descent, was published in 2016. It won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His debut nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed, is forthcoming from Little, Brown.
Colson Whitehead photo by Chris Close