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Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide


"The Nickel Boys" by Coleson Whitehead



• Kamala Harris elected VP
• Black Lives Matter protests, largest U.S. movement
• Supreme Court prohibits LBGTQ workplace discrimination



Teacher, journalist, Manhattanite Coleson Whitehead understands first-hand how a young Black man can be treated by the system. Whitehead created a version of what happened at the Dozier School to reveal the suffering of the innocents and the actions of the unpunished.


Featured Reader Wanted!

Featured Reader

– Share your key take-away about inclusion in this book in a sentence or two.
– Write a paragraph or two (up to 250 words) to describe your thoughts on exclusion/inclusion in the book, why you related or did not connect with the book, and why you think reading, inclusion and dialog about inclusion matter.
– Identify the name and website address of a cause you support with an inclusive mission.


Bright Black boy, wrongly arrested, sent to horrific “reform” school


Elwood is viciously beaten because he protected a little boy from bullies.


Whitehead’s second Pulitzer win is based on documentation of one hundred years of abuse at the Dozier School for Boys uncovered by University of South Florida archaeologists and forensic anthropologists. Children as young as five were denied food, hired out to work, shackled, beaten, or murdered.


A short, riveting, emotionally demanding novel in 224 pages or 6 CDs.


Accountability. Revealing ugly truths in American history is a required step for reforms of the justice and education systems.


All of the children at Nickel Academy are victims, but, surprise, Black children get the worst treatment. Perpetrators of abuse and violence are white people entrusted with the care and education of young people. Children return to Nickel because the system fails them.


Serve food intended for children obtained through ethical means. Do not serve ice cream.


“Elwood never ceased to marvel how you could walk around and get used to seeing only a fraction of the world. Not knowing you only saw a sliver of the real thing.” 


Chat without pay as you paint some rich white lady’s house.


What happens to people living in poverty with limited educational opportunity in this novel? In real life?
What are the possible and likely outcomes when a young Black man is stopped by the police? Sent to a “reform” school?
How should/how are reform school teachers/housemasters trained? What kind of oversight is appropriate?
What roles should discipline and work play for children in a “reform” school?
How do teachers create inclusion in the real world?
Who inspired Elwood and why?
What kinds of bullying happened in the novel?
How did life at Nickel shape opportunity, mental health, and relationships after school?
Why do children like Elwood do the right thing when peers are doing the wrong thing?
What was the most disturbing aspect of this novel?


The site of the Dozier School for Boys sits on 1,400-acres in Marianna, about 60 miles northwest of Tallahassee on the Florida Panhandle. Alas, there is no Richmond Hotel in Tallahassee. The Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences is in Tampa. Do not hitchhike; rent a car. Leave tips for dishwashers at every opportunity.


Amazon TV series adaptation of “The Nickel Boys” is planned.


Coleson Whitehead won his first Fiction Pulitzer in 2017 for “The Underground Railroad.” Listen to MLK recordings. Dr. Erin Kimmerle, Executive Director of the Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science at the University of South Florida, is the forensic anthropologist who led the Dozier School excavation. Her publications include “Identification of Traumatic Skeletal Injuries Resulting from Human Rights Violations and Modern Warfare: Identification of Injuries Resulting from Human Rights Abuse and Armed Conflict” in 2008. Whitehead’s "Harlem Shuffle" was published in 2021.

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