Delayed by the pandemic, author Colson Whitehead appears in Buffalo Thursday night

William Faulkner. John Updike. Booth Tarkington. They were the only authors to win two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction in the first century of honors. Add to that list now, Colson Whitehead, who, after a lengthy pandemic-related delay, will appear Thursday in Buffalo as part of Just Buffalo Literary Center’s “Babel Series.”

Just Buffalo’s Artistic Director and Associate Executive Director Barbara Cole says Whitehead was initially booked for the series in 2019 before the pandemic altered plans.

“His career has just exploded even more.” Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys” won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize. Amazon TV developed his other Pulitzer-winning work “The Underground Railroad.” In 2021, Whitehead released “Harlem Shuffle” and it became a bestseller.

“So if anything, I think even more people know about Colson Whitehead and feel so excited for him to be coming to Western New York,” said Cole, who moderates the “Babel Series,” interspersing audience questions while leading what promises to be an important conversation.

“His work really gives us a way to think through these larger issues and the crisis of systemic racism in this country,” said Cole.

“This is what the power of literature really gives us. These are problems that many people feel like they just don’t even know how to think about it. And the power of great books is that they give us a way to think through these.” issues.”

Cole says Just Buffalo Literary Center has been working to initiate conversations on race in one of the most segregated cities in America.

“We created the Civil Rights Project a few years ago, which is a community engagement initiative,” said Cole.

“We’ve been hosting racial healing circles with the NFJC. We’ve organized in-person tours with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, and also virtual tours with the Michigan Street African American Corridor.”

The focus, at the moment, is on Thursday’s appearance of Colson Whitehead at Kleinhans Music Hall. For Cole, researching authors is her de ella “passion de ella,” and she’s looking forward to speaking with Whitehead, who she calls “a brilliant speaker, who’s also very, very funny.”

“What I love most is feeling that energy in the auditorium, the outpouring of emotion, as you mentioned, the gasps, the moments of silence, the nodding heads,” said Cole, who has seen audience members break down in tears when speaking with “Babel” authors.

“These are real once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and to be able to witness the power of that interaction is just so dramatic.”

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