Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Haley Reading (Group 1) Nafissa Thompson-Spires's "Heads of the Colored People"

[Haley Reading groups Spring 2021]

By Lakenzie Walls and Howard Rambsy II

In Nafissa Thompson-Spires's story “Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology," we are introduced to four characters whose individual stories intersect on a day that two of them are shot by police. The narrator takes the time to give us brief, in-depth takes on the movements, choices, and thoughts of four characters.

One of the characters, a young Black man named Riley wears colored contacts and bleached hair, and, as we're informed by the narrator, "this wasn’t any kind of self-hatred thing” (1). Another Black man, referred to as Brother Man, "was burly but not violent and rather liked to regard himself as an intellectual in a misleading package" (4). 

Then, there is a visual artist Kevan, who is hundreds of miles away from the main action in the story, but would later draw images of Black men, like Riley and Brother Man, killed by police (8). Another is Paris Larkin, who longs for a superpower to "make herself visible" (10). Like her boyfriend Riley, she is devoted to cosplay. 

What does this "black network narrative" lead you to consider about Thompson-Spires as a storyteller? That is to say, what's one thought you had about the creativity, style of writing, organizational approach, or artistic capabilities of a writer who composes a story that connects a variety of African American characters?

55 comments:

EvanCeleste said...

I thought that the style of writing by the author was interesting and unique because they are directly addressing stereotypical assumptions that might immediately come to certain people's minds when they read about the character's physical appearances and descriptions. It's uncomfortable in a good way and brings up a conversation that should happen, but usually doesn't because of a fear of being perceived as racist.

Linda H. said...

The author would address the reader's preconceived notions about the characters made due to their description. This comes full circle when the characters die and the media starts spinning their own story about them that we know as the reader isn't who they are. The way the author connects the characters goes to show how far reaching the effects of senseless police killings go. Even 100s of miles away people learn about these cases and feel the profound dread that yes, this has happened again.

Linda H.

Jovahna Williams said...

I thought the style of writing was incredibly powerful as it brought attention to a lot of the stereotypes that are put on black people. This was in contrast to how we see ourselves based on the fact that we know who we are better than anyone who can label us as to who they think we might be. The style of writing shows the diversity of black people and, how just like everyone else, though we are diverse there is a lot of intersecting between personalities, styles and physical appearances. The style of writing also shows that though we are all different, we are seen as the same by white police and the inevitable will happen because they don't see the diversity. White police see black people and murder them without any regard as to who they are as a person, or what they have to offer to the world. Whether or not they were armed, whether or not they were violent and whether or not there was a better way to solve the issue at hand does not matter. Because we are all seen as being the same we are all met with the same fate.

Jovahna W.

Thomas Siganga said...

The author of this story brought up many stereotypes brought up by first appearances. Of course, this occurs with other races too, but here it felt a bit more extreme. Trying to be whatever you want putting you out of the "box" that this particular society wanted you to be in. Here, it was Riley notably with his different appearance of blonde hair and blue contacts. In the end, I believe a lot of the reasons people got killed in this story were due to jumping to conclusions and just overall having a bad first impression since the character wanted to be able to like something different.

Thomas S.

Anonymous said...

Thompson-Spires is really creative and artistic. In this chapter she took on describing four different characters (five including Kevan’s daughter Penny) and mending them together. The characters all had different personalities and one think in common, their race. Although that’s how she connected them and later interactions, she still showed that they were just like anyone else. Each character had qualities of majority group, yet they were still treated differently because of their skin.

Alexis H. 3/24/21

Alexis S. said...

While reading this passage by Thompson-Spires, I was a little confused by the organizational pattern at first, but by the time I reached Paris' point of view it clicked. Thompson-Spires organizational and writing style was very creative and intriguing as it leads you on different pathways and viewpoints to connect the story being told. I liked how the author showcased each characters personality and addressed difficult topics and stereotypes all in one passage.

- Alexis S.

Phoenix Johnson said...

Thompson-Spires has a special writing style in this particular sequencing by showing how 4 people are different in personality and in life, but could still fall to a same fate. Each character has a personality or style that doesn't fit the stereotypes that come with their race. Though in society every one of those four could die because of their skin. At the end of the day the author shows how these four different lives can come together and be connected in a way because of discrimination to their race.

Samantha A. said...

I thought the style of writing was interesting as the author divided the the story by each character which is numbered. I appreciated the organization of the numbering as it lets you know when a new character is being introduced. The story also went into detail of each personality, which I appreciated as it was not stereotypical and showed representation of different personalities of African Americans.

-Samantha A.

LaTrina Brown said...

I actually liked the author's style in writing the passage, it was a very different read. I liked how the characters were all different people with their own unique style while all having one thing in common. It goes to show that just because someone may look like you based on the color of their skin, you can all still be different people yet that wouldn't matter to anyone outside of your race.

Ehriana . C said...

I think the authors style of writing is different from most. The way hes able to connect the characters and form these different backgrounds of them all was interesting. I think he did a good job of demonstrating how we are viewed to the rest of the world even though we are not all the same.

Breana B said...

The writer has a very unique writing style. I like how the author formatted this story. Its not like your traditional story format. This was my favorite reading so far. I loved how the writer included different black characters that all were unique. I really liked what he did with Riley. Looking at Riley you would've stereotyped him but it in reality, Riley was like you and me. This writing piece showed people to never judge a book by its cover. There's always more to someone then just what you see.

-Breana B

Anonymous said...

I think the style of writing is somewhat different, but it captivates the audiences attention. The author also sheds light on real issues within the world and that is what makes this read relatable and interesting. We have experienced at least one aspect that she brings up throughout our lives. I like how she incorporated the type of music Riley listens to because that also makes it relatable in a sense of being.

I'yauna Brown

Alayna M said...

I thought Thompson-Spires's writing was extremely captivating and unique. She manages to talk about heavy topics like stereotypes and the unjustified killing of black people by the police in an almost beautiful way. Now, that's not to say that she is romanticizing these topics or taking away their brutality, she just writes about it in a way that makes you notice it even more. Its a story, but about hard hitting things that we or our loved ones face everyday.

Alayna M

Unknown said...

James Taylor-My thoughts on the authors writing, pertaining to this section of the book. Is that this section shows the authors skills, in skillfully painting the canvas of the reader’s mind. Where it shows the creativity of using descriptive words, to set the scene for the reader, we see the world, the actions, the events, and the personalities of the characters. We see their likes and wants, hobbies and their character as human beings. The creativity of her writing style, plus the artistic capabilities all do nicely at portraying the characters that we as readers to connect with. The organizational approach, switching back and forth between characters can separate one’s focus and makes the reader to pay attention to know who is who. But it did its job, all qualities listed has made this piece a truthful portrayal at the realities of Afro-Americans. Exposing stereotypes and bringing light, to the harsh realities faced by them.

Devin Ellis-Martin said...

I like this style of writing because it changes the perspective that we are used to of stereotyping, while also, checking how we think about these ideas, in our mind. -Dev

Mya Jackson said...

The writing style used here is very interesting and creative. The author brings up real issues in the world, but in a light way. They are addressing the stereotypes that black individuals are automatically associated with. Futhermore, the only thing the individuals in this scenario have in common is their race, but people still assume they are the same. The writing style helps make a topic that can be difficult to discuss a lot easier. In the end, it shows that there's more to someone than what you can see from the outside.

Anonymous said...

I was very interested in how the author was able to weave these narratives together but the moment that stood out to me the most was the reality they were able to combine with the creativity in order to send a message. Specifically when it came to Riley and Brother Man, though both did not fit the typical definition of a black man brought on by society as well as our people they were still gunned down like a typical black man. The message I received from this being that black society, as well as general society, needs to cultivate this type of creativity from our black men. So that others can view this creativity as a natural pathway from the harmful rhetoric of not being a typical black man. Not to say that being a typical black man is bad but that younger generations know that they do not have to be made to feel weird for expressing themselves in different ways.

Chris W

Teighlor Traywick said...


I believe the author wanted to colorfully create multiple African American characters in which any reader could relate. I find this interesting because most of the time in novels, when an African American person is described, it is usually very general or stereotypical. The writer wanted us to picture in our heads different type of black people. We are not all the same. For example, the mention of cosplay was a deliberate choice because in many circles cosplay is seen as “fantasy” & alternative” —--adjectives that aren’t usually associated with black people. However, the author wanted to show that black people who enjoy this genre and lifestyle exist. They exists, but in the end are still seen as just black when it comes to police brutality and violence.

Teighlor Traywick

Danielle Hawthorne said...

Nafissa Thompson-Spires is a unique story teller. Usually in novels, American Americans don’t have this much variety. The characters were all unique and different aside from the fact that they are African American. I think this is a very important read because it emphasizes that people in one race are not all the same. It is kind of breaking that stereotype people have about race. For example a black man with blue eyes was introduced in this section of the book. The author stated that they were his real eyes but people may stereotype and think they are fake just because this is uncommon. At the end of the day same race or not, we are individuals and can express our selves as such. I enjoyed this section of the book.


Danielle Hawthorne

Jaydyn Zykan said...

The author's choice of diction and style throughout the first couple of pages were confusing for me at first. As I continued to read the chapter, I began to appreciate how unique and interesting her writing actually is. Personally, I admired how she addresses the stereotypes black people face and how they are ultimately portrayed in media after tragic incidences occur. I also admired how the characters all are woven together at the end. This goes to show that even though each black person is unique and lives miles away, we all face the same discrimination based on race.

Anonymous said...

After reading the descriptions of each of the characters mentioned, I was first intrigued by the diversity in personality and background. This diverts people away from the stereotypical black identity that is portrayed by different outlets. While the characters each portray different identities, it is still nice to see that they still share the same response to police brutality and that they are not blind to this issue just because of their personalities.

-Ronald A.

Tracy Long said...

I liked the way the writing was done, the author tied all the stories together . In the stories it talks about some deep topics such as the killings of black men . I think that every story had it uniqueness and was not the stereotype of a black person.

Isaiah Jackson said...

The unique style of this story was very effective to me. The stories dance around the shooting by stopping shorter and shorter of it and implying the details of it more with each one. It really makes you feel like you're caught in a narrative whirlpool. You realize the terrible thing waiting at the center, but you have to keep spinning before you get there. The constant meta-talk of the narrator serves to keep you from thinking too hard about the shooting until the time is right, and that makes the impact of it so much more powerful. By the third story, the shooting is there in the back of your mind, and the thought of it stays there until the end.

-Isaiah Jackson

Kenisha Townsend said...

I thought the style of writing was unique and insightful. It shows the individuality (as it pertains to personalities) in the black community. Not everyone in the black community fits the stereotypes that circulate regarding Black people. However, many look at us as all the same, so we are treated the same despite our differences.

Kenisha T.

Samontriona P. said...

I found the writing style interesting. I say that because the writing shed light on the fact that African Americans comes with different identities. Many times African Americans are stereotyped and his writing made sure to highlight the different personalities and behaviors of individuals in the black community. Although they had different personalities they all had they were all still black, therefore they faced the same injustices.

Ayo J said...

The style of writing used by the narrator was vivid and interesting. The author narrated this story in such a way that each person was described in a unique manner, while embracing their racial identity of being black. This helps to denounce the idea of stereotyping based on races, which is a form of discrimination.

Alliyah M. said...

I thought the writing style was a unique way in effectively portraying how diverse all of the characters were and how their diversity breaks the racial stereotypes they often have to deal with. Even though the characters personalities were different, the author showed how the characters were still all connected because they shared the same problems that are caused by stereotypes that exist in society.

Noah Jones said...

I like the author's approach because they are demonstrating the idea that there is not just one type of black person. There are no real rules that exist. The lines that talk about Riley likely having assumptions about his sexuality or personality placed upon him just because of his blue eyes, blonde hair, and dark skin. We find out this isn't true, and I think it sets the tone for how black the author plans to tell black peoples stories, even the ones that don't fit the world's expectations.

- Noah Jones

Anonymous said...

I thought her writing style was captivating and clever. The flow from one story to the next was effortless. She confronts all the stereotypes that the reader may be thinking about each character. Her words highlight how people want to compartmentalize black people based on their appearance.

Alexys Williams

Brooke Harris said...

I thought it was awesome to see what was being written about also be displayed by such creative writing ability. It makes it so that these outside of the sterotype characters could be pictured as everyday people because that's how it is supposed to be. Anyone can be who they want to be regardless of societal pressure within race and the way the author writes in an artistic manner just further pushes that narrative.
-Brooke Harris

William Akpan said...

I thought the style of writing was incredibly effective at giving the reader in-depth detail about the characters in the story in such a short amount of time. I thought it was creative how from the beginning, the author told the reader not to make assumptions about the characters, both Brother Man and Riley. The introductions into each character and the brief history, allows the reader to get to know each character, knowing what motivates them and gives us a general sense of their beliefs. I thought it was great, the way all the stories were tied together, and how some people from different paths in their life all came together because of one major event.

Adejoke Adanri said...

I thought that the most interesting thing about the author's writing was that he would call out the reader for having preconceived judgments about the characters, like that Riley wouldn’t date black women or that he was self loathing due to his blue contacts and blonde hair. I also thought it was interesting how the author used different character perspectives to tell the story.

Dasmin W. said...

The author tackled the ideas of racism, police killing, and stereotypes within the stories of four characters. The author's writing style is unique because they used numbers to bring in the new character like it was a new chapter. In each chapter, the author described each character's physical appearance, life, personality, and surroundings. Even though each character is different, their fate and portrayal in the media were determined by the color of their skin. The author's story not only sheds a light on different representations of the black community through the characters but also showed that race often outshines reality in many eyes.

Anonymous said...

Stella N said...
When reading works like this I always think about how much work went into writing that includes the network. The author has to remember or "research" what went into what they wrote in the past or make a diagram to remember who knows who or what connections there are between places or characters.

March 28, 2021 at 11:18 PM

Anonymous said...

I believe that the writers style was very creative and clever needless to say he did a great job the way he structured this all out, you can tell he put some time and thought into this and how he wanted to approach it. He took all sides of the situation and put it into play here as far as the diversity and stereotypical things that were brought up, everything was connected and i like that

-Tymera Washington 3/26/21

Kalonji said...

The way Nafissa Thompson-Spires was able to intertwine these four individuals' characters' stories demonstrated her foresight, preparation, and ability to project fine details/ characteristics onto each character. The piece is itself was also uniquely and well organized. For me, this story highlighted the expression of "Perception is Reality". Unfortunately, in many situations, some people's flawed distorted perceptions can lead to a routine situation becoming a matter of life or death. In this instance, as like others, people died unnecessarily. The problem with "Perception is reality" is that an initial perspective does not tell the whole story.

Philip Bowen said...

The author writing was very interesting and unique in how the author shows the different stereotypes the black men receive from the reader before hand. It was creative how he gives the reader a chance to know more about the characters and their beliefs as well as how all their stories tie into together. I feel that this type of writing shows the different personalities that exist in the African American communities but still shows that we are connected by color.

Jasmyn Kloster said...

I thought the style of writing the author chose was quite interesting. It the style really shined a light on black stereotypes as a whole, which was moving in itself. The writing pointed out differences in every character, which made the reading a unique experience. The writing was creative, but also gave direction in how to reader was supposed to perceive each character differently. The author did a great job of weaving all the characters together.

Jasmyn Kloster

Keaira C. said...

This author's style of writing is very unique, honest, and clever, as they continued to address every thought that the reader could possibly have about the details and typically underlying thoughts with experiences. Writer, Nafisa Thompson Spires gives you visual to make you feel as if you can see the real depth, insides, and true personalities of each other characters and does well with also incorporating the viewable, "outside looking in" perspectives of the characters as well. By giving us these additional pieces of insight, and information, I know I personally felt that the lens that we were given these characters in was very real and honest. I think there was a really creative approach to this writing, and it was effective and powerful when it came to showing the readers the attributed and commonly associated microaggressions and stereotypes that people get associated with.

Justin Jubert said...

This writing style was very innovative and impressive because it displayed the various types of ways black people are perceived in America. African Americans are not a monolith. There are many different attitudes, beliefs, and values that exist within our culture that may not be understood by many people outside the community. I believe more authors should use styles and themes like this to convey their message better to the audience. -JJ

Kelsey McNeil said...

I think that the writing style of this particular reading was very different than what I am used to. I sometimes find it hard to read passages with long sentences and many commas and that is a writing style that is used a lot in this sequence. Because of that, I had to reread certain passages a few times in order to fully understand the organization. I will say, however, that the way all the stories tied together was very interesting and gives a real life look at how things so many miles away influences our communities.

Kelsey McNeil

Anonymous said...

In my opinion From the start of the book it had be a bit confused. I enjoy the writing tho, it’s creative and different from other readings I’ve came across. He’s trying to show the differences between all African American and not only that the way they may be viewed to others. You can also tell that because of their features nothing changed with being treated differently because of their race. We as African Americans will always be viewed differently no matter the clothes on our back , the respect we give and more.

Courteona Combs 3/29/21

Anonymous said...

Thompson-Spires writing shows the art of storytelling. The way she told this story showcases her creativity. She was able to tell a full circle story using the POV’s of four unique individuals, that have individual personalities and experiences but are interconnected by race. She was able to create a narrative that was separate from society’s narrative. She gave these African American individuals a voice. The author shows they were just everyday people but because of the color of their skin they were treated and portrayed as criminals.

Jayla Pierce, 3/30/21

gabby said...

Throughout the book, I particularly liked the creative way that Thompson Spires writes her stories. In this way she was able to tell a narrative about several unique individuals who have varying experiences and personality traits. In a way, these individuals are all connected to race. And, how minority individuals are are seen as inherently different and "other".

Gabrielle Wimes

Youssef Hassan said...

I thought that the writer told the story in a way similar to how others would do it. The writer tried to introduce each characters and find a way for each of them to meet or encounter each other. In my opinion the introduction of each character was good, but the way they were connected to each other at the end of the reading felt pretty rushed. This was creative but it has been done many times before, and the execution was not the best. I still did have a decent time reading this but i was honestly disappointed in the end.

Anonymous said...

The way the author wrote these stories about these new characters was very unique. They way he went about talking about stereotypes was very creative. All of these new characters were different in many way but the one way they were similar was in race. Due to stereotypes they were all precieved to be the same just because they were African American.

-Kenyon Davis 4/4/21

Anonymous said...

I am used to reading very easy book. I must admit that "heads of the colored people" was a little complex to read. However, for a person who really enjoys difficult reading. This book may be a very interesting one. Thompson is an incredible actor. The book described every plot and setting thoroughly. I really enjoy the fact that the author gives life to the character, the reading is so vibrant that you'd believe that everything said or every personage is real and that there is a person who have truly experienced these circumstances.

-Geonel M.

James Beverly III said...

This section was quite interesting because it discussed certain preconceived notions we can believe about a person solely off of their physical appearance. This is a topic that is deeply rooted in race and racism which can also be intertwined with stereotypes. This author has been able to be an advocate for African Americans and give them representation and a voice.

Youssef Hassan said...

After reading, i thought that the storyteller introduced each character well. I have seen stories where the characters end up meeting each other in some way. I would not say this form of storytelling is unique, but each character seemed interesting. At the ending, when two of the characters get shot, the moment where all the characters meet felt rushed. So i ended up feeling disappointed in the end.

Raillane Kamdem said...

I loved the writing in this reading in that the ideas showcased in it were done in a subtle and creative way. The way in which the author wrote about the stereotypes assumed within each character was done in such an intricate disarming way. I love readings like this where no one can say they blatantly force ideas in your head but instead they showcase stories and lead you to the right conclusions.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy the author's style of writing. I believe their writing style isn't too difficult to follow, entertaining AND informative, which I believe is super important. I like how the author addresses stereotypes that surround the black community. This author is able to write about heavy topics in a very captivating way.

-Jada Baker

unknown said...

The author’s descriptions of the characters were very vivid, helping me to create detailed imagery. The descriptions and the authors writing style made it easy to immerse myself in. Thompson makes it clear that no matter how much the characters’ appearances varied, their race was the determinant in their treatment. This made the story all the more relatable and a bit scary.

-Ronald Allen

Anonymous said...

I really like the way the author describes the characters. It make you feel like you know them and and see them in your mind's eye. The writing style is different then what I am used to but refreshing at the same time.

Breann Walton

Kristian Beal said...

I think that the writing style of this reading was very thoughtful and deliberate. Because of that, I had to reread certain passages a few times in order to fully process certain passages. All the stories were very interesting and gave a real life look at how strong things influence our communities.

-Kristian Beal

Torian Henry said...

The author's style of writing is something I did not believe I would enjoy as much as I do. The descriptions are so detailed and particular it enables you to create a clear portrayal of the text in your mind through the text. The stories were amazing because of the relevance to current events and the accuracy of the plots.

Torian Henry