The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead was published in 1999 and marked the debut of one of our most talented literary artists. This inventive novel focuses on a highly intelligent black woman elevator inspector who is tasked with the work of a detective as she tries to get to the bottom of a case. The narrative showcases Whitehead’s interests in racial allegory, technology, playfulness, and popular culture and reveals his extraordinary gifts as a writer and imaginative storyteller. The book presents African American concerns in a book that is a cross between science fiction and mystery.
The elevated vocabulary of the book proved challenging for students in my classes over the years, and some of them were frustrated by the novel's mysteries and complexity. Assisting them work through these challenges and frustrations has made the book quite rewarding to cover.
The Intuitionist appeared five years after the death of Ralph Ellison, and some say that people in the publishing world were looking for the next great black male writer. Maybe Whitehead was the one?
• Reading lists for Black Boys and Collegiate Black Men