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Book Discussion

The Underground Railroad

Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - 5:30pm to 6:30pm
  • Virtual Event via Zoom
A special Library Book Discussion presented in tandem with the Lifeline Quartet's performance of "Songs of the Underground Railroad" at Strings Music Festival

About the Book 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction & the 2016 National Book Award

Underground Railroad

One woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share. 

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.
Kirkus Reviews

*** Whitehead's novel is the basis for the acclaimed original Amazon Prime Video series directed by Barry Jenkins.

The Music

Lifeline Quartet performs Songs of the Underground Railroad

Michelle Mayne-Graves

Songs of the Underground Railroad 
7 p.m.
Friday, October 15
Strings Music Festival

Tickets are available here. And participants who register for The Underground Railroad book discussion will receive a $10 discount coupon.

Celebrate a critical part of America’s musical heritage with Underground Railroad spirituals. Michelle Mayne-Graves and her Lifeline Quartet perform spirituals from the Civil War era and before, celebrating "code songs" written as reminders and guides for the Underground Railroad. These spirituals include hidden messages about maps, navigational strategies, and timing for slaves to escape toward freedom in the Northern States and Canada. It is marvelous and perhaps miraculous to witness the magnificent music created by an oppressed people during and despite incredible suffering.

In addition to directing choirs, performing spirituals, and helping to coordinate and lead singing groups for veterans, Mayne-Graves is a team supervisor and RN case manager for Housing Homeless Veterans at the Veteran’s Administration in Los Angeles.


About the Club 

The Bud Werner Book Club meets once a month and is facilitated by Bud Werner Library's Circulation Services Manager, Michelle Dover. Open to anyone interested in participating, this club meets in the evening and is designed to be inclusive, supportive and meet the needs and interests of the group. No need to attend all of the discussions, just pick the ones that interest you! Group is limited to 15 participants per meeting. Sign up at the circulation desk, call 879-0240, or use the registration button at the top of this page.