Colson Whitehead’s hilarious angst on display at St. Joseph’s College

Brooklyn Daily
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The writer’s life is filled with fear and loathing — which reminds Colson Whitehead of a joke.

“I usually spend Wednesday night alone, going over my regrets. So this is a nice change of pace,” the author of “The Intuitionist” and “John Henry Days” quipped at St. Joseph’s College last Wednesday — a good set-up to a hilarious evening listening to Whitehead dissect the essential angst of trying to make it as a writer.

By now, the Fort Greene author of four books and the essay collection “Colossus of New York” is a big-time literary star. But it wasn’t always that way. And that reminds him of another joke, this time about the seemingly nonsensical lyrics of the Donna Summer song, “MacArthur Park”:

“When I started getting all these rejection letters, I sat around in my underwear, watching ‘Jerry Springer’ with the shades drawn, surrounded by Budweiser cans, and I finally got what the song was about,” said the author. “Knopf Publishing, why did you leave my cake out in the rain? … Atlas Vanity Publishing of Secaucus, New Jersey, why did you not even return my phone calls?”

Whitehead’s latest book, “Zone One,” is a satirical take on the ever popular zombie-horror genre set in the Big Apple. The story isn’t even set in Brooklyn, but our rapier-wielding critic still had nice things to say about it.

Whitehead is either a phenomenal talent or he’s just lucky that America has gone all “post racial.” And that reminds Whitehead of another joke:

“I call your attention to my slender, delicate fingers and thin, feminine wrists,” the author said. “[But] a skinny black man, with slender fingers and thin feminine wrists, has actually become president. So if it’s ever going to be our time, this is pretty much it.”

Whitehead’s laugh-a-minute lecture is part of St. Joseph’s effort to link writers to their readers — and neighbors.

“I thought, ‘How cool would it be to have a writing series where the speakers live just a few blocks away,’ ” said Richard Greenwald, dean of academics at the college. “I don’t know many other towns where something like this can happen.”

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 12:53 am, December 5, 2011
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