Zombie Talk with Colson Whitehead


Colson Whitehead‘s new novel, Zone One imagines a post-zombie-apocalypse New York. The novel, which came out yesterday, uses zombies as a means of cultural and social critique, taking aim at consumerism and mindless materialism.

Writer Zachary Kussin spoke with Whitehead about world building, zombie influences and his Halloween movie recommendations.

Whitehead will be at Greenlight Books tonight at 7:30pm.

What do you think zombies represent?
For me, they’re the terror of…becoming monsters—your family your friends your neighbors your kindly bus driver, being revealed as the monsters they’ve always been underneath—that was my takeaway from watching Romero when I was a kid.

How did you get into horror?
Other kids like to go out and play in the great outdoors—perhaps in Central Park–I liked to stay in, watching the Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, reading comic books—late-70s Marvel—and soaking up B movies on TV. Those are my first influences.

I know that some movies, such as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead inspired Zone One—were you exposed to these movies back then?
Oh, yeah, I came from a very horror-movie-watching family, so I saw them at too early an age—I had very permissive parents, so I think it was seeing Dawn of the Dead in junior high in the theater, it was rated X—I wasn’t even supposed to be allowed to watch it—it was seeing Dawn of the Dead that got me stuck on zombies all these decades.

Is there anything about these movies that stand out as something you admire?
They scared me. I’ve had zombie nightmares for the past 30 years.

What inspired the slang you create for the book–with characters refering to zombies as “skels” and such?
That’s sort of building a subculture, whether you’re representing it in Sag Harbor, or inventing it in The Intuitionist. How would these people talk in Zone One? What kind of words would they put to the world, invent? So that to me is a factor in world-building.

Would you recommend that fans stay home to read your book for a good Halloween scare?
They can, or they could put on John Carpenter’s Halloween, and have fun with that as well.


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