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In collaboration with the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague, the UvA English Department led a group of students to meet the award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead on 5 November. The BA, MA and pre-Master’s students attended a public interview with Whitehead at the Schouwburg theatre before convening later in the afternoon to ask questions about his latest novel, Harlem Shuffle (2021). Those attending had read the novel in advance and discussed it in two ‘reading group’-style meetings, overseen by dr. Ben Moore and dr. Kristine Johanson.

The novelist’s answers ranged widely across the themes covered by his new book: the life of New York, especially Harlem, in the years around 1960; the shifting forces of history, memory and time; race and class tensions; and perhaps most importantly, how to pull off a good heist! We were fascinated to hear also about Whitehead’s earlier career, including his careful research into the details of language used at different historical periods by different groups of people, such as the multiple meanings of the word ‘scourge’ in the case of his widely praised The Underground Railroad (2016).

At the end of the discussion, students were presented with a wristband giving access to the festival’s evening events, which featured a varied range of literary and musical guests.

We look forward to building on this successful event by continuing to work closely with Crossing Border in future years.