The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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Acclaimed novelist Colson Whitehead named Janet Weis Fellow

Photo+Courtesy+of+Chris+Close
Chris Close
Photo Courtesy of Chris Close

Colson Whitehead, acclaimed and celebrated writer, will speak at Bucknell University on Sept. 9, 2024, as the Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters. 

Whitehead is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of 11 works of fiction and nonfiction. He received the Pulitzer Prize for The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, which also was honored with the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Fiction. He also became the second writer of color and the sixth writer ever to win both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for the same novel.

The Underground Railroad chronicles a young enslaved person’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. It became an Oprah’s Book Club recommendation in 2016, went on to sell more than one million copies and received praise from hundreds of notable laureates, including from President Obama.

“I am thrilled that Mr. Whitehead will be visiting Bucknell to speak to our students, colleagues and community,” says Interim Provost Margot Vigeant. “His works offer students the opportunity to experience the transformational power of literature, enriching their understanding of contemporary issues through profound engagement with his characters’ experiences of the past.”

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The Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters is a biennial honor at Bucknell that recognizes the highest level of achievement in the craft of writing within the realms of fiction, nonfiction or biography. Previous recipients are Elizabeth Kolbert, Peter Balakian ’73, Robert A. Caro, Edward Albee, John Edgar Wideman, David McCullough, Derek Walcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Wolfe, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Toni Morrison and Rita Dove.

Whitehead was born in New York City on Nov. 6, 1969, and grew up in Manhattan. He is one of four children of successful entrepreneur parents who owned an executive recruiting firm. He attended Trinity School in Manhattan and graduated from Harvard University in 1991. After graduating college, Whitehead became a writer for “The Village Voice.” His reviews, essays and fiction writing have appeared in numerous publications, including “The New York Times,” “The New Yorker” and “New York Magazine.” In 2019, he was featured on the cover of “Time” magazine, which described him as “America’s Storyteller.”

In addition to writing, Whitehead has traveled the country teaching at distinct universities. Whitehead has taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University and Wesleyan University. He has also been a writer-in-residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond and the University of Wyoming.

Whitehead is the recipient of 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. In 2020, the Library of Congress awarded him its Prize for American Fiction, and in March 2023, President Joe Biden awarded Whitehead the National Humanities Medal.

The Janet Weis Fellowship was established in 2002 through a grant from the Degenstein Foundation in honor of Janet Weis, an author, civic leader and philanthropist as well as trustee emerita of the University. Her husband, Sigfried Weis, was chair of the Bucknell Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1988.

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