Colson Whitehead’s new novel The Underground Railroad was supposed to be one of the biggest books of fall. But in a surprise announcement on Tuesday, his publisher moved the release date up more than a month, to Tuesday itself, thanks to a major coup: Oprah Winfrey has chosen the novel for her book club, instantly ensuring it will be one of the biggest books of the year.
Originally slated for a Sept. 13 publication date, the publisher, Doubleday, secretly started shipping out 200,000 copies in anticipation of the announcement. When Whitehead got the call about the Oprah news, he said in a press release, “I let out a stream of loud, joyful expletives—which was awkward because my plane had just landed and everyone looked at me like I was crazy … Oprah has introduced so many wonderful books to people, from The Song of Solomon to The Sound and The Fury, that I’m honored and grateful that The Underground Railroad is joining such great company. You write the best book you can, and hope it finds its way. This is the best kind of sendoff.”
Whitehead is a MacArthur genius and the author of The Intuitionist, Sag Harbor and other books. The premise of his new novel imagines America’s most shameful history chapter with an element of fantasy: What if the Underground Railroad were an actual railroad? Writing on Twitter, Oprah warned one reader, “sometimes you’ll have to put the book down. No kidding. It gets rough!”
Watch Oprah’s endorsement below and take her advice to “get it, then get another copy for somebody you know, because you are definitely gonna want to talk about this with somebody once you read that last heart-stopping page.”