Top 10 list for Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist

[By Howard Rambsy II]

Every year that I’ve assigned Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, folks in the classes who have some initial difficulties with the book want to know what made me choose it. For some reason, I typically stumble through answers. Over the years, I’ve developed a list to that addresses their questions. I think. Perhaps. Maybe.

So here we go, my new and improved a good ol’ top 10 list of reasons why I favor assigning The Intuitionist for the African American literature courses I teach:

10. I enjoy watching the processes of initially “I’m confused” readers becoming “Oh, I get it” readers.

9. Readers previously unfamiliar with Whitehead’s book give me new things to think about a novel that I *thought* I already knew really well.

8. Reading The Intuitionist might lead folks to “difficult” or “sophisticated” works by black writers.

7. I really like The Intuitionist. And that fact wouldn’t matter much except; well, I happen to also hold the grade book. (insert diabolical laughter here.)

6. The Intuitionist helps us think about afrofuturism – a framework for thinking about the convergence of race and technology.

5. Aspects of The Intuitionist echo Ellison’s Invisible Man and Morrison’s Song of Solomon, along with some minor traces of James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Chesnutt’s “The Wife of His Youth,” Richard Wright’s The Outsider, Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and various other works.

4. The uncanny similarities between the first female colored elevator inspector (Lila Mae) in the book and the first black woman U.S. Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice) as well as the connections between The Intuitionist and the comic book Daredevil are fascinating.

3. Lila Mae is one of the ultimate black nerds in fiction.

2. It’s a book about elevators.

1. Reading The Intuitionist (and this top ten list) might lead folks to produce a better top 10 list concerning this book or other works by African American writers.