Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Colson Whitehead Named Guest Speaker at 2022 McKinney Award Ceremony

April 4, 2022

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Colson Whitehead Named Guest Speaker at 2022 McKinney Award Ceremony

Whitehead to read from his work in livestreamed event

Colson Whitehead, author of The New York Times bestsellers The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, will speak virtually at the 81st annual McKinney Writing Award ceremony on Wednesday, April 6 at 7 p.m.

The virtual event is free and open to the public by advance registration. Due to health and safety protocols, the in-person event will be limited to members of the campus community with priority given to those associated with the student writing contest. Registration is required.

“Given the struggles associated with the ongoing health crisis, and significantly the health disparities experienced by underserved communities, it is especially satisfying that we can gather this year to contemplate literature that sheds crucial light on historical injustices and provides a shining example of the potential for literature to open hearts and minds,” said Skye Anicca, lecturer in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Rensselaer and the Chair of the McKinney Award Committee.

Whitehead won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Underground Railroad. The Nickel Boys won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His latest bestselling novel, Harlem Shuffle, was published in the fall of 2021.

Whitehead is also the author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. He was named New York’s 11th State Author in 2018. 

The McKinney Award recognizes top writers in the Rensselaer student community. An average of 230 students enter each year to compete for a total of more than $4,000. Cash prizes are awarded in both graduate and undergraduates divisions in four different categories: Fiction or Drama, Poetry, Essay/Creative Nonfiction, and Electronic Mixed Media Using Language.

A special category was established for this year’s competition. Language and Empowerment is a multi-genre division that reflects the Department of Communication and Media’s emphasis on language as a primary vehicle for the work of democracy, social justice, and equity. This category seeks explicitly to highlight emerging writers who are working creatively, perhaps in more than one language, with words they deem urgent and essential to the discourse of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“The thoughtful, articulate, and often profound student writing honored at the McKinney Awards demonstrates the influence of Rensselaer’s emphasis on a well-rounded STEM education that includes significant work in the humanities, arts, and social sciences,” Dr. Anicca said.

The event is sponsored in part by the Rensselaer Annual McKinney Writing Contest and Reading; Vollmer W. Fries Lecture; Department of Communication and Media; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Rensselaer Union; Friends of the Folsom Library; and the NYS Writers Institute.


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