I got word first of last month that I was accepted to the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s SUPER program on “American Slave Narratives: Their Impact on Fiction and Film.” The SUPER Teacher Program, which is short for School and University Partners for Education Renewal, provides in-depth professional development for K-12 teachers during the summer by offering themed courses taught by university professors and scholars. I attended the program on Alabama’s Black Belt back in 2007, and out of that came the Treasuring Alabama’s Black Belt: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Place curriculum guide, for which I acted as general editor.
So this summer, it’s slave narratives. I and a handful of other teachers will be spending a week in Tuscaloosa learning more about how to teach these culturally sensitive documents as well as the more modern fictional depictions that have arisen from them.
I feel lucky that, back in 2002 and 2003, I assisted Randall Williams in compiling and editing the Alabama-centered slave narrative collection, Weren’t No Good Times. That experience more than ten years ago has grounded me in a healthy respect for nature of slave narratives. Reading through hundreds of narratives to cull the Alabama-based stories gave me a tour de force education in these difficult documents, though I’ve not studied them much in scholarly settings before.
For the next month, I will be reading . . . a lot! In the package full of books that came recently were two I had already read – Beloved by Toni Morrison and Jubilee by Margaret Walker – and four I had not, and one I’m only barely familiar with: Kindred by Octavia Butler. I’ve begun with The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, and will likely move next to the collection, The Classic Slave Narratives, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. And of course, what rounds the assigned readings: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines, which I remember reading back in school . . . twenty or twenty-five years ago. Might be wise to re-read that one! Going back over Beloved and Jubilee will probably be equally wise.
What prompted me to jump on this offering though is something I mentioned in one of my recent “A writer-editor-teacher’s quote of the week” posts; this week’s quote, from poet Andrew Hudgins, excerpts his remarks on Southern literature— really, on Southern culture . . . in which one feature is “a sense of the living presence of the past.” Slavery is an inherent and undeniable part of the South’s past, and as such is very much with us still, even one-hundred-fifty years after Emancipation. The ongoing legacy is here, in our society, in our economy, in our culture. If you ask me, no Southerner can know enough about the realities of slavery, and also about its mythology, the latter of which prompted me to sign up for all this work. I’m interested in what really happened, in what we may believe to have happened, and the gaps between the two, because we carry all of that – both truth and un-truth – forward with us.