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Colson Whitehead Talks Post-Apocalyptic Zombies and Miami Book Fair

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Colson Whitehead, best known for his 2009 novel Sag Harbor, recently released a novel about zombies, Zone One. The book challenges literary conventions and may very well represent a change in perspective from the literary establishment toward genre novels.

Spanning three days in a post-apocalyptic world, the story deftly handles traditional tropes with often frightening, yet genuinely funny writing.

"Zone One is about the end of the world," Whitehead told us. "I like to keep it fresh book to book, and this is a challenge. Some books are linear, some less linear."

Whitehead will be in Miami next month for the Miami Book Fair International, but Cultist caught up with the author in anticipation of his November appearance.

Zone One is an imaginative take on the familiar post-apocolapytic world novel and follows the story of Mark Spitz, a man in charge of cleaning up Lower Manhattan by locating "stragglers," non-cannabalistic zombies who nonetheless populate the streets.

"Sag Habor was a coming of age story and it showed one way of viewing life," Whitehead says. "Zone One is more pessimistic... Labels exist in the world. This book was inspired by horror fiction and horror movies."

In the vein of World War Z and I Am Legend, Zone One takes the reader on a metaphoric journey exploring the limits of government and other societal structures to protect its people, as well as the propensity for people to attempt to pick themselves up again after great struggle. The subject matter, while certainly in the realm of the popular, still conveys essential insights on the human condition. Whitehead's writing is as skilled as ever. 

A former write for our sister paper, The Village Voice, Whitehead won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002 and received the New York Public Library's 2002 Young Lions Fiction Award as well as a Cullman Fellowship.

The author is currently a visiting professor at Princeton University, where he teaches alongside Jeffrey Eugenides, Edmund White, and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. His upcoming Book Fair visit will be his first in nearly a decade.

"I was last at the Miami Book Fair eight years ago," Whitehead says. "And I'm very excited to be back."

The Miami Book Fair International runs November 13 to 20, at Miami-Dade College (300 NE 2nd Ave, Miami). Call 305-237-3258 or visit miamibookfair.com.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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