Whitehead scoops Arthur C Clarke Award

Whitehead scoops Arthur C Clarke Award

Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad (Fleet) has won the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature.

The book, which was yesterday longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, has already accumulated a number of accolades including America's prestigious National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as a ringing endorsement from former president Barack Obama. It includes elements of magical realism, as runaway slave Cora uses a literal underground railroad in her bid to escape to a better life.

Andrew M Butler, chair of judges, said: “I'm delighted the judges chose Colson Whitehead’s intensely moving The Underground Railroad. It's a gripping account both of humanity’s inhumanity and the potential for resistance, underpinned by science fiction's ability to make metaphor literal.”

Whitehead called it "wonderful news", especially since it was science fiction and fantasy that made him want to be a writer. 

"Way back when I was 10 years old, it was science fiction and fantasy that made me want to be a writer," he said. "If you were a writer, you could work from home, you didn't have to talk to anybody, and you could just make up stuff all day. Stuff about robots and maybe zombies and maybe even miraculous railway lines. Fantasy, like realism, is a tool for describing the world, and I'm grateful that a book like The Underground Railroad, which could not exist without the toolkit of fantastic literature, is being recognized with the Arthur C. Clarke award."

Fleet publisher Ursula Doyle told The Bookseller this morning she was pleased to see the book's transcendent quality recognised. "I was really pleased when I heard that The Underground Railroad had been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke, so for it to win the award is an absolute delight," she said. "It really means something when a book is claimed by a true range of readers; it is great to see The Underground Railroad's transcendent quality recognised by this illustrious prize. I know Colson is very honoured, as am I."

Award Director Tom Hunter added, in Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s centenary year, The Underground Railroad made "a much-deserved winner" and was "a tribute to Sir Arthur’s original intent that the award be as inclusive as possible in defining its genre". He called it "a book that demonstrates science fiction’s uncanny ability to be both of the moment and an enduringly powerful message for futures to come”.

The winner was announced yesterday evening (27th July) at a ceremony held at Foyles' flagship Charing Cross Road shop in London.