"Big Read" for 2018-2019

The English Department at Purdue presents its second annual “Big Read,” a voluntary common read program designed to link Purdue and Greater Lafayette readers. With the help of campus and community partners, each year we select a great book, create a calendar of engaging events, and provide copies to English majors, Purdue students, local high schools, public libraries, and more. 

The “Big Read” book for 2018-2019 is The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead will be the guest speaker for our 2019 Literary Awards Banquet.


The Underground RailroadCora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. 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. Matters do not go as planned—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.

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 and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. A genre bending blend of historical narrative, science fiction, and adventure, The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Praise for The Underground Railroad:

“Get it, then get another copy for someone you know because you are definitely going to want to talk about it once you read that heart-stopping last page.” Oprah's Book Club

“With this novel, Colson Whitehead proves that he belongs on any short list of America's greatest authors — his talent and range are beyond impressive and impossible to ignore. The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece, as much a searing document of a cruel history as a uniquely brilliant work of fiction.” NPR

“[I]’s as if he’s attempting to cram as many genres into one novel as possible, with science fiction meeting fantasy and a picaresque adventure tale, all against the backdrop of a reimagined 19th-century America…. I haven’t been as simultaneously moved and entertained by a book for many years. This is a luminous, furious, wildly inventive tale that not only shines a bright light on one of the darkest periods of history, but also opens up thrilling new vistas for the form of the novel itself.” The Guardian

“Big Read” Curricular Initiatives:

• Each incoming first-year English major will receive a copy of the book, courtesy of the English Department.

• The English Department will provide copies of the novel to West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, and other local libraries.

• The Office of Residential Life at Purdue will promote Underground Railroad as a voluntary common read among its first-year residents of   the Cornerstone neighborhood.

• Information Technology at Purdue & “Dawn or Doom” will generously donate copies of Underground Railroad to our local high school partners.

• English Department faculty and teaching assistants are invited to integrate the book into their fall and spring courses.

Activities include:

Dawn or DoomDawn or Doom - Fall 2018. 

Books & Coffee

Join the English Department every Thursday in February for Books & Coffee. 

Literary Awards

Colson Whitehead will be our distinguished guest speaker at the Literary Awards Banquet and Reading on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Special Thanks to Our Partners:

Barnes & Noble bookstores

Information Technology at Purdue & “Dawn or Doom”

Harrison High School

McCutcheon High School

Penguin Random House Speaker’s Bureau

Purdue Honors College

Purdue Office of Residential Life

Purdue Student Union Board

Purdue University Libraries

Tippecanoe County Public Libraries

Tippecanoe County Historical Association

Von’s Shops

Wabash Lifetime Learning Association

West Lafayette Public Library


Underground Railroad reader’s guide (for book group discussions).

“Big Read” (high resolution 11 x 17 & 8 1/2 x 11) promotional fliers.  Help us get the word out!  

“Big Read” bookmarks.  Perfect for summer reading!

Donate to the


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