Press Release: Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

by Colson Whitehead

Alison Rich

“Masterfully told…an unusually generous, wisely funny novel about good kids and a society’s muddled attempts to come of age…” —Booklist (Starred)

“Wonderful, evocative writing, as always from Whitehead…” —Library Journal (Starred)

“The author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist John Henry Days explores the in-between space of adolescence through one boy’s summer in a predominantly black Long Island neighborhood…Benji’s funny and touching story progresses leisurely toward Labor Day.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred)

“Another surprise from an author who never writes the same novel twice…his warmest novel to date. Funniest as well…” —Kirkus Reviews

“Pure shimmering brilliance. Colson Whitehead’s affecting new novel joyously lights up a place, a time, a family and one unforgettable young man. It is also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, a book loaded with the kind of humor that can only soar off a heartbreaking sadness.” —Gary Shteyngart

The year is 1985, and Benji Cooper and his younger brother, Reggie, are the only black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. He spends his falls and winters going to roller-disco bar mitzvahs, playing too much Dungeons and Dragons and trying to catch glimpses of nudity on late night cable TV. After a tragic mishap on his first day of high school—when Benji reveals his deep enthusiasm for the horror magazine Fangoria—his social doom is sealed for the next four years. But every summer, Benji and Reggie can escape to their parents’ beach property in Sag Harbor, Long Island, where a small community of African-American professionals has created a world of their own. From one of our most acclaimed young writers at work today, SAG HARBOR (Doubleday; On Sale: 4/28/09; $24.95), is a warm, funny, and supremely original new novel about coming of age in the 1980’s written as only Colson Whitehead could imagine it.

Benji and his family have been “coming out” east for years. Because the parents in this African American enclave are all upwardly mobile professionals a ritual ensues after each weekend: The parents return to work in Manhattan and the kids are left to their own devices during the week. As confused as Benji is about navigating the white world during the school year, this summer he notices the once comfortable landscape in Sag Harbor changing as well. There are new handshakes to fumble through and profanity to master, his old bike gives way to some big brother’s car, and girls suddenly matter more than boyhood friendships. Rap music warps into hip-hop, New Coke debuts and Benji finally gets a real haircut—a tragedy of epic proportions as seen through his adolescent eyes. It seems that everywhere Benji looks, past and present, black and white are in conflict, and Benji is simply trying to find himself in the chaos.

Moving effortlessly from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Benji’s story is a fiercely funny story of the perpetual mortification of teenage existence and of coming of age at a time and in a place that remains vivid long after it has gone or grown old. In the closing pages Whitehead brilliantly describes the face of Benji’s first love: “the two windows facing the street, the front door for a nose and the three brick steps for a mouth…This was my old house where all the good things lived on though we had moved on. But you know me,” the protagonist continues, “Nostalgic for everything big and small. Nostalgic for what never happened and nostalgic for what will be, looking forward to looking back on a time when things got easier.” A deeply affecting and personal novel that probes the elusive nature of identity, personal and communal, racial and post-racial, SAG HARBOR is another supremely crafted work by one of our most talented American novelists.

COLSON WHITEHEAD is the author of the novels The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He has also written The Colossus of New York, a book of essays about his hometown. A recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in Brooklyn and spent many childhood summers on Sag Harbor.

Join Colson Whitehead reading from SAG HARBOR at these events:

Wednesday, April 29—Barnes & Noble Tribeca, New York, NY

Friday, May 1—Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

Monday, May 4—Book Court, Brooklyn, NY

Tuesday, May 5—Philadelphia Free Library, Philadelphia, PA

Wednesday, May 6—Brown University Bookstore, Providence, RI

Thursday, May 7—Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

Wednesday, May 13—Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

Thursday, May 14—St. Louis Public Library, St. Louis, MO

Saturday, May 16—Ann Arbor Book Festival, Ann Arbor, MI

Monday, May 18—Bookshop Santa Cruz, San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, May 19—Berkeley Arts & Letters, San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, May 20—ALOUD! at the LA Public Library, Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, May 26—McNally Jackson, New York, NY

Saturday, July 11—Canio’s, Sag Harbor, NY