Table Talk

An Interview With Colson Whitehead

What were some of the models, literary or otherwise, for your book in 13 parts,The Colossus of New York?Well, in terms of voice, definitely Dos Passos's Camera Eye and Manhattan Transfer—the sort of way of zipping in and out of different people's consciousness, sort of merging the individual's consciousness with the city. And then, too, in a weird way, The New York Experience, the five-screen documentary that came out in the '70s, which was trying to create this panorama of the city out of little snippets.

Is that the effect you were looking for in using alternating voices? I was just trying to break down barriers between citizens, to show that my impression of a rainy day is very specific but overlaps with my neighbor's, that we have this very common perspective on the mood of the day, on rush hour and Times Square. There is no direct narrative line, but there's maybe 13 characters.

Do you think you'll keep coming back to writing about the city, in one form or another?I think the city might be my biggest subject, my unavoidable subject. Talking about it indirectly in The Intuitionist is one way to approach it; this is another way. There's more traditional nonfiction I could do. There's also more freaky, expressionistic nonfiction like this that I could do. Hopefully, I'll keep trying to mix it up.


Related Article:
Joy Press's review of The Colossus of New York

 
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