Interviews, Reviews, and News: Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys

By Marissa Lynch | August 1 2019 | Humanities & Social Sciences

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad received glowing critical reception upon its publication, earning him the National Book Award and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His highly anticipated follow-up novel The Nickel Boys faced the threat of being overshadowed by its predecessor, but has quickly earned a spotlight of its own. We’ve put together a collection of articles below to highlight some of the conversations around The Nickel Boys, featuring a selection of interviews with Whitehead, reviews of The Nickel Boys, and news about the continued aftermath of the real-life Dozier School for Boys.


Colson Whitehead at 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival. Image credit: “Colson Whitehead @ BBF (6161074114)” by editrrix. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Colson Whitehead on the ‘incredible evil’ of the real school that inspired Nickel Boys
“I think most black Americans can identify with the notion of being swept up into a lethal, terrible situation very . . . randomly because of our skin color.”

‘I Carry It Within Me.’ Novelist Colson Whitehead Reminds Us How America’s Racist History Lives On [Video Interview]
“The thought of going down there [to the Florida School for Boys] made me depressed, made me very angry. I knew if I went down there it would only be with a can of kerosene and a match to burn it down. It’s an evil place.”

Extended interview: Colson Whitehead on writing The Nickel Boys [Video Interview] 
“I think we’re hard-wired for it. Hard-wired for cruelty. . . . I think demonizing people because of their race or religion or gender or sexuality, what kind of God they worship or team they like to root for, we’re built for tribalism. And definitely in our lifetimes, we’re not gonna escape that.”

Author Colson Whitehead on ‘The Nickel Boys’ and fantasy vs. realism [Video Interview]
“You pick the right tool for the job, and sometimes fantasy is a way to open up a story and convey a universal truth, and sometimes realism.”


List of New York Times best sellers, week of August 4, 2019. Image credit: Screen capture from The New York Times.

In The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead Depicts a Real-Life House of Horrors
“A writer like Whitehead, who challenges the complacent assumption that we even fathom what happened in our past, has rarely seemed more essential.”

In Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, an idealistic black teen learns a harsh reality
“[The Nickel Boys is] in conversation with works by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and especially Martin Luther King. . . . It shreds our easy confidence in the triumph of goodness and leaves in its place a hard and bitter truth about the ongoing American experiment.”

For The ‘Nickel Boys,’ Life Isn’t Worth 5 Cents
The Nickel Boys is a beautiful, wrenching act of witness, . . . and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Whitehead is one of the most gifted novelists in America today.”


Dining hall construction at the Florida School for Boys with the “White House” in background, circa 1936. Image credit: State of Florida. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

40 victims of the ‘Dozier School for Boys’ find final resting place (3/17/19)
“The remains of 40 boys who died of suspected abuse at the Dozier School for Boys in Mariana were reinterred in what will likely be their final resting place Saturday afternoon.”

USF forensic experts search for more remains at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys (7/16/19)
“Forensic experts from the University of South Florida returned this week to a notorious state reform school, researching 27 additional sites in the area where the remains of more than 50 people were unearthed in 2015.”

No human remains found in new investigation at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys (7/23/19)
“The first phase of a new investigation of 27 possible graves near the former Dozier School for Boys found ‘no evidence of human remains,’ according to a joint statement issued Tuesday by the Florida Department of State and the University of South Florida.”

Leesburg victim of infamous Dozier school ready to move on (6/29/19)
*CONTENT WARNING: article contains descriptions of child abuse. Discretion is advised
“If there’s justice served by the State of Florida, I’d like to see it for not just me but all the men [who attended the Dozier School for Boys]. . . . They’re my brothers.”


Learn more about The Nickel Boys by following the link below:

The Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
A Novel
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
$26.00 US
Jul 16, 2019
224 Pages