Dr. Alonzo Ward to speak on African American History before the Civil War at Jacksonville Public Library tonight

By Benjamin Cox on July 19, 2018 at 12:00pm

Considered by many to be the highest prize in writing and journalism, the Pulitzer prizes celebrated their 100th anniversary last year, and the Jacksonville Public Library will partner with Illinois College to welcome the 2017 Pulitzer winner for fiction to Jacksonville.

The JPL is hosting a series of events in anticipation of Colson Whitehead’s visit on Wednesday, September 12th. Whitehead won the 2017 Fiction Writing Pulitzer for his novel “The Underground Railroad”, categorized as an alternate history novel that follows two slaves, Cora and Caesar, as they seek to earn their freedom on the infamous Underground Railroad.

The series begins this evening at 6:30 p.m. with Dr. Alonzo Ward, Assistant Professor of History at Illinois College. According to JPL Director Chris Ashmore, Dr. Ward will offer an educational session about African American history in the United States before the Civil War.

“Today, Dr. Alonzo Ward will give a program entitled ‘African American History Up To the Civil War’. Dr. Ward will discuss the historical backdrop of the novel, what life was like for African Americans, and then touch on what the real Underground Railroad was like. That will be a nice lecture followed by questions and answers after.”

Ashmore explains the two JPL events that will bring a more specific focus on the novel.

“We will have two book club style discussions led by Dr. Beth Kappa, an English professor at Illinois College, Thursday August 16th and Thursday August 30th, both at 6:30 p.m. Unlike Dr. Ward’s program, which is primarily a historical program, Dr. Kappa will be leading a discussion much like you would see in a high school literature class or a book club. It will basically be the same discussion, so folks can come to either meeting.”

Ashmore details the schedule for Colson Whitehead’s September 12th Jacksonville visit.

“At 5 p.m., he will come to the library and we’ll be having an open house and sort of meet and greet with the author with food and drink. When that is over at 6:30, there will be about a half hour break, and then Mr. Whitehead will be speaking probably to a packed house at Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel in regards to the novel and he’ll be taking questions after. There is also a book signing planned but not scheduled, and I’m not sure whether that will be at Illinois College or here at the library.”

In addition to the 2017 Fiction Pulitzer, Whitehead’s sixth novel won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurst/Wright Legacy Award, and the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and is a selection of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 list.