Colson Whitehead Cancels His Commencement Speech at UMass Amherst

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead said Thursday that he would not give the commencement address at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 18 as planned, citing the administration’s decision to call the police on campus protesters.

“I was looking forward to speaking next week at UMass Amherst,” Mr. Whitehead wrote on the social network Bluesky. “But calling the cops on peaceful protesters is a shameful act. I have to withdraw as your commencement speaker. I give all my best wishes and congratulations to the class of ’24 and pray for the safety of the Palestinian people, the return of the hostages, and an end to this terrible war.”

Michael Goldsmith, a representative for Mr. Whitehead, said the author had no further comment.

The school said that the ceremony would proceed without a commencement speaker.

“We respect Mr. Whitehead’s position and regret that he will not be addressing the Class of 2024,” Ed Blaguszewski, a spokesman for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said in a statement.

The police arrested about 130 people at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Tuesday night after pro-Palestinian protesters refused to remove their encampments.

Mr. Whitehead, whose novels include “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” is an extraordinarily decorated author. He has won the Pulitzer Prize twice, in 2020 and 2017, and was a finalist in 2002. He also won the National Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

He is also something of shape-shifter, moving easily between disparate genres. His book “Sag Harbor” was a coming-of-age novel, “Zone One” was a postapocalyptic zombie story, and “The Underground Railroad” followed a young enslaved woman who escapes from a Georgia plantation.

C Pam Zhang, the author of “How Much of These Hills Is Gold,” and Safiya Umoja Noble, author of “Algorithms of Oppression” and a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, have also withdrawn from commencement speeches this year, according to the website LitHub. Both were scheduled to speak at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.

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