Colson Whitehead, Zone One, and Publishing History

[By Howard Rambsy II]

Next Tuesday, October 18, will mark the release of Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One. His previous four novels and one work of creative non-fiction, The Colossus of New York have helped make him one of our leading literary figures. Whitehead has distinguished himself as a really inventive writer, and with this upcoming “zombie” novel, he seems to further stretch the boundaries of the kinds of topics that a prominent African American novelist might address.

As far as novels by African American writers go, Zone One has received an extraordinary amount of pre-publication buzz. Harper’s, GQ, Esquire, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, and Publishers Weekly are some of the publications that have already provided coverage and thus publicity for Whitehead’s book.

In the days leading up to the publication, we’re likely to see reviews in major publications. I suspect that The New York Times Book Review—one of the nation’s most influential sites for book reviews—will run at least one review and perhaps a feature on Whitehead. The Times reviewed all his previous books.

Doubleday released a large number of Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of the book. I received one in fact. Those ARCs made it possible for quite a few folks to blog and tweet about the novel well in advance of its official publication and thus add to the word-of-mouth buzz for the novel. That buzz, of course, was largely web-based.

In addition to contributing to Whitehead’s impressive body of work, the release and reception of Zone One will provide those of us interested in the contemporary publishing histories of African American literature with much to consider. This week, I’ll sketch out a few notes concerning the upcoming release of Whitehead’s novel and my experiences following his work over the last, wow, decade.