In January 1977, the ABC miniseries Roots became the most-watched television program of all time. It was a cultural phenomenon, presenting African-American characters with a dignity that differed sharply from the caricatured representations common to television up to that time. On October 6, 2017, Goodwin College will host a special Roots at 40 conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the original broadcast, featuring keynote speaker Colson Whitehead.
Whitehead is the author of The Underground Railroad, which has been a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award winner, and a selection for Oprah’s Book Club.
On April 10, 2017, the novel received an additional honor when it was chosen for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The story reimagines the Underground Railroad as an actual subway system carrying slaves north.
Planning for the conference had been in progress at Goodwin for more than a year before the announcement of the Pulitzer was made.
“When I learned in March that we had secured Colson Whitehead to be our keynote speaker, I was thrilled beyond words because all of his books have won acclaim,” said Susan Hansen, Director of the Hoffman Family Library at Goodwin. “I had no idea at the time that we’d be welcoming our newest Pulitzer Prize winner to East Hartford. The announcement has generated a new level of energy around our event! His keynote talk will provide an exceptional opportunity for people in the community to meet an author of this renown. Roots earned a Pulitzer Prize for Alex Haley as well, so the connection is really perfect.”
Whitehead’s other works include The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. His reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper’s, and Granta. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Dos Passos Prize, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He has taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, and been a Writer-in-Residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming.