By Hannah Mock ’20
Ben Winters, author of the novel “Underground Airlines,” spoke to Book Bistro on Jan. 27. He is an established author, with a science-fiction mystery novel titled “The Last Policeman,” which was picked up by NBC as a TV show. During the talk, Winters spoke about his process and motivation for writing his book.
“Underground Airlines” is an alternate history novel, a genre that revolves around the natural progression of history, but with one or more significant events changed or omitted. His book explores the idea that the Civil War never occurred, and slavery is still legal in four states. Students said they were engaged in Winters’ novel and what he said about his work.
“It is about what today would be like if the Civil War and slavery never happened, and when you really think about it, so much of what we know as America is shaped by the Civil War, and I feel that it is really relevant to society today,” Book Bistro member Jaya Ananda ’20 said.
Winters explained his process in depth and how he needed to make sure he was portraying the black characters in his book correctly.
“It was really interesting hearing him talk about writing slavery and being a white guy and having to do research to make sure it was an accurate voice,” Book Bistro member Derek Weinstock ’20 said.
Librarians and faculty members in attendance said they enjoyed “Underground Airlines” as much as student attendees did. The relevance of “Underground Airlines” to modern society was a prevalent topic, as several questions were asked about it.
“I think Ben Winters said it best when he said it wasn’t just about slavery; it can be a direct link to all forms of modern slavery. I think it sheds light on the way that black bodies are viewed in modern society as less than or as commodity, even in society without traditional Antebellum-style plantation slavery,” librarian and Book Bistro advisor Elaine Levia said.
When the club meeting concluded, students and teachers alike reflected on the event and Winters’ book.
“[Winters] was particularly wonderful about engaging with all students in Book Bistro and answering every question,” Levia said.