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IC Connections author encourages persistence


A Pulitzer Prize-winning author who visited the Jacksonville Public Library and spoke at Illinois College Wednesday, encouraged those in attendance to be persistent in the pursuit of their dreams while talking about his award-winning book.

Author encourages persistence when following dreams, Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree | Journal-Courier

Colson Whitehead, the author of “The Underground Railroad,” spoke to members of the community and Illinois College Wednesday, sharing a passage from his book while telling about his rise as an author.

Starting off reading any genre he could as a child, Whitehead said he started small in journalism before moving on to novels, the first of which received a high number of rejections.

“I didn’t think I could take it,” Whitehead said. “It took so long to make it.”

After sharing stories of his first failed attempts at being published and his own fears of not producing a compelling story that people will like, Whitehead told the audience that he learned to move forward.

“I want them to learn that it’s OK to fail,” Whitehead said. “It’s OK to follow your weird ideas.”

Whitehead said after his first failed attempt at being published, he held off on his idea of writing about the Underground Railroad, despite its prominence in his thoughts.

Instead, he wrote several other works to be published.

“Each time I would finish a book, I’d go back to my notes, and would think, ‘I’m not ready yet,’” Whitehead said.

Finally, encouraged by those around him, Whitehead said he started the process of writing, researching, reading the stories of slaves and “soaking up the words and details.”

“The Underground Railroad” has won a Pulitzer Prize, a Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Hurston/Wright Fiction Award. It also was a New York Times bestseller.


I want them (students) to realize that books are not just old things on the shelf. There are artists involved. To get to meet a novelist like Colson Whitehead is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Emily Adams, Academic Director for the IC Connections Program and Associate Professor of French

Students at Illinois College read the book as a part of the school’s IC Connections Summer Common Reading, a requirement for first-year students.

Emily Adams, academic director for the IC Connections program and associate professor of French at IC, said meeting the author and hearing him talk gives a more in depth connection for students.

“I want them to realize that books are not just old things on the shelf,” Adams said. “There are artists involved. To get to meet a novelist like Colson Whitehead is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Jacksonville Public Library Director Chris Ashmore said having an author of Whitehead’s caliber visit the library was great.

“It is quite amazing for us to bring in an author of this stature,” Ashmore said. “I’m glad the community has responded so well.”

For Whitehead, the trip through Illinois and the Midwest has been a great experience.

“It’s great to see the places that were a part of the Underground Railroad,” Whitehead said.

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

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