The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

Illustrated by Jamaal Barber

Introduced by Emma Dabiri

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction, Colson Whitehead’s hyperreal story of slave escape networks, The Underground Railroad, is presented in a standout Folio Society edition with a new introduction by Emma Dabiri and illustrations by Jamaal Barber.

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Born into slavery and abandoned by her escapee mother while still a girl, Cora knows exactly how little her life is valued in the Antebellum South. Left to fend for herself against her barbaric white captors, she must also stand up to her fellow slaves who would steal both her pathetic patch of ground and her virginity. An opportunity to escape sees her flee one set of horrors for another, choosing the slim chance of survival and freedom over a guaranteed life of hell.  

Voted one of the 100 best books of the 21st century by the Guardian, and the recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction, this essential novel, by one of the most important writers of our time, is now published as a striking collector’s edition. Colson Whitehead weaves reality and fantasy together in a story that best-selling author Emma Dabiri describes as ‘otherworldly, underworldly’, in her exclusive new introduction. Meanwhile, Jamaal Barber’s stunning wood-cut and painted collage artwork breathes even more life into a harrowing history that will always need retelling; a story that grabs your emotions and doesn’t let go.

Bound in Imperial cloth, printed and blocked in silver foil on front and spine

Set in Freight Text with Shelton Slab as display

296 pages

6 full-page colour illustrations, including one double-page spread

Printed slipcase

Printed in Italy

9½” x 6¼”

‘Be prepared to have your heart broken but recognize the necessity of that pain and this knowledge.’
  1. Emma Dabiri, from her introduction

Cora’s existence differs little from that of the generations of enslaved African American forebears, but hers is the story that Whitehead chooses to tell in this harrowing reckoning of America. Addressing the horrors of slavery head-on, this is a rare story of survival set against the normalised brutalisation of enslaved people. Transforming the fabled network of safe houses and routes used by escaped slaves into a tangible subterranean railway, Whitehead injects his electric prose with a subtle surrealism that plays on the urgency of Cora’s situation. The best-selling author of Don’t Touch My Hair, Emma Dabiri, goes behind the story to deconstruct Whitehead’s mission for readers in her introduction, while artist and printmaker Jamaal Barber uses his experience of exploring Black identity to create evocative and vibrant imagery that enhances what has become a classic work of modern fiction.

About Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is the author of nine novels and two non-fiction books. Born and raised in New York, he is widely regarded as one of America’s finest contemporary writers. He has won many awards, including two Pulitzers (for The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys) and the National Humanities Medal. His first novel, The Intuitionist, was called the ‘novel of the millennium’ by GQ magazine and was praised in a review by John Updike. Alongside book-length work Whitehead has continued to publish essays and reviews in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Granta and elsewhere. He has been a teacher and writer-in-residence at universities across the United States, from Princeton to Wyoming, and still lives in Manhattan. His latest novel, Crook Manifesto, was published in April 2023.

About Jamaal Barber

Jamaal Barber was born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina; he has been based in Atlanta, Georgia, since 2004. Since 2003 printmaking has been his primary focus, and his woodcuts and mixed media prints can be seen on display at ZuCot Gallery in Atlanta and have also been exhibited in the Decatur Arts Festival, Atlanta Print Biennial Show and at art shows around the Metro Atlanta area.

About Emma Dabiri

Emma Dabiri is an Irish Nigerian writer, academic and broadcaster. She teaches at SOAS University of London and is researching for a PhD in visual sociology at Goldsmiths. She is a regular column contributor for the Guardian and her journalism has appeared in Vice, the Irish Times and elsewhere. She is the author of two ground-breaking books: Don’t Touch My Hair, a study of African hair that fuses memoir and cultural critique; and What White People Can Do Next, a manifesto for radical change and a Sunday Times Bestseller. In 2023 Dabiri was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


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