Colson Whitehead Joins Artists to Celebrate Fahrenheit 451

By Eleanor Laurence

A group of writers and entertainers gathered to celebrate the premiere of Fahrenheit 451, at a “speakeasy” for the arts tucked away in Brooklyn, New York.


At the kickoff evening of a three-day event in honor of Fahrenheit 451, attendees acknowledged the film’s themes of censorship in a dystopian future. The night’s special guests included author Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad), singer and songwriter Ella Mai and journalist Lilly Workneh (Blavity, Huffington Post).

While Fahrenheit is based on Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel of the same name, those attending “Speakeasy 451” were adamant the story resonates more than ever in 2018. As Fahrenheit director Ramin Bahrani pithily stated in his opening remarks for the night, “I love books. I think everybody here does.”

Singer Ella Mai.

Before performing a soulful set of R&B originals, Ella Mai reflected on Fahrenheit’s premise and its implications: “To be honest, I wouldn’t know what to do if I lived in a world of censorship, where art and literature were being burned.” She continued, “Literature and the arts have given me almost all my values. I used to do performing arts when I was a lot younger, and in school I was really into writing and poetry. Making music and writing poetry is a way to express myself. It’s very therapeutic. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

Journalist Lilly Workneh, serving as moderator that night, identified the resonance of Fahrenheit in contemporary times: “The book is set in a dystopian future, but we’ve gone through a lot of cultural changes and societal changes in America that have forced us to really reexamine our present, and how our past is impacting our present, and more so, what it can do to our future.”

Journalist Lilly Workneh and author Colson Whitehead.

Author Colson Whitehead took the stage to read from his recent novel The Underground Railroad, a re-imagining of American slavery in which slaves board a literal train to journey north to freedom. Discussing the book before his reading, Whitehead observed, “You pick the right tools for the job. Realism is a tool. Fantasy is a tool. My motto for this book was that I wouldn’t stick to the facts, but I would stick to the truth — the larger American truth.”

Whitehead dug deeper into the larger truths he’s found in literature: “You go to books for different reasons,” he explained.” The book we pick up on a Sunday might not be the same one we pick up on a Thursday.” Personal preferences aside, for Whitehead, books “serve the same function they did a thousand years ago: They can entertain, they can edify."

Fahrenheit 451 premieres May 19 at 8 p.m.

The Night in Pictures

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Ramin Bahrani with Speakeasy 451 guests.

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