The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead's novel tells the story of runaway slave Cora, and her journey to freedom in slavery-era United States.

Colson Whitehead

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. Things do not go as planned, and 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.  With Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, close on their heels, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, seeking true freedom.

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 encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey, as Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era.

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. (From Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

The Undergound Railroad is a Pulitzer Prize winner, as well as a New York Times #1 Bestseller and National Book Award winner. 

The Underground Railroad is on the 2017 Man Booker Prize longlist.

Excerpt | Author interviews

From the book

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

This was her grandmother talking. Cora's grandmother had never seen the ocean before that bright afternoon in the port of Ouidah and the water dazzled after her time in the fort's dungeon. The dungeon stored them until the ships arrived. Dahomeyan raiders kidnapped the men first, then returned to her village the next moon for the women and children, marching them in chains to the sea two by two. As she stared into the black doorway, Ajarry thought she'd be reunited with her father, down there in teh dark. The survivors from her village told her that when her father couldn't keep the pace of the long march, the slavers stove in his head and left his body by the trail. Her mother had died years before.


From The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead ©2016. Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Author interviews

What if the Underground Railroad really was a network of secret trains that brought runaway slaves to freedom? That's the premise of Colson Whitehead's acclaimed novel, "The Underground Railroad." He speaks with Eleanor about blending fact and fiction. 51:35
The best-selling author opens up about the story he has waited years to write. 15:35