The novel has received a number of awards, including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction. The previous book to win both the Pulitzer and the National Book prizes was The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx, in 1993.
While awarding the Pulitzer Prize, the committee recognized this novel for a "smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America."
The Underground Railroad was also awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature.
When The Underground Railroad was published in the United States in August 2016, it was selected for Oprah's Book Club.
The novel received positive reviews from critics. Reviewers praised the novel for its commentary on both the past and present of the United States.