From the first page of Colson Whitehead’s extraordinary novel The Underground Railroad I knew I was reading something ground-shifting. I’ve been a student of African-American history since about age 14, and I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about slavery and the Freedom Train. But that’s what’s so powerful about great literature: it deepens your perspective, opens your consciousness and allows you to be in the shoes of its characters, journeying alongside them.
In the year since I first read this book, it has been affirming to see how it’s been embraced, winning the Pulitzer Prize and becoming a No. 1 best seller. I believe that’s because Colson has a vision about what it means to make art. He didn’t just write a historical novel about slavery and courage and the beating heart of freedom. Although the struggle continues and our challenges are not behind us, the brilliance of his vision is that he reminds us that, like his heroine Cora, we can never give up hope, can never stop trying.
Winfrey is the chair and CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network