Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Haley Reading (Group 2) 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?

56 comments:

Kiya R. said...

Personally, the most interesting aspect of Nafissa Thompson-Spires' storytelling is how she creates all of these different characters and stories, and yet, they tend to face the same struggles due to being Black people. While reading the "Heads of the Colored People", we see how four very different people are all affected by police brutality. Through the "black network narrative" that she has created, the many experiences that are unique to Black people are all being represented in a variety of ways and stories through her writing, which is very refreshing to read (even though it is a bit saddening to read the book at times).

A quote that highlights her creativity and storytelling states, "And what is a black network narrative but the story of one degree of separation, of sketching the same pain over and over, wading through so much flesh trying to draw new conclusions, knowing that wishing would not make them so?" (Thompson-Spires 14).

Mark Steven Lewis said...

My first thought was that it was more confusing than it needed to be. However, after thinking about it some more, I see now that the narrative order was to set up the scene and characters in a way that would cause us to understand their place in the world before they were taken out of it. While their experiences related to their race are different, they both ended up in the same place, paying the same price for being who they were. I believe she is brilliant at showing both the personal and more grandiose scale of a story.

Peyton Payne said...

I thought it was important that these 4 people were included to show that even with the differences in their appearance and personality, they all face the same struggle because of the thing they have in common, their skin color. These 4 different perspectives show her talent as a story teller

Kaelyn Cupil said...

I believe the author of this book does a phenomenal job giving depth to her African American characters and how none of them had the same "black experience" although they are all black. A lot of authors give the same black plight to all the black characters to experience which leads to a gray overtone of everything in my opinion. The different facets of how blackness is experienced by different walks of life made the story interesting because even in all the differences the characters were experienced, they still related to being black at its core.

-Kaelyn Cupil

Nijay Spellman said...

How Thompson-Spires chose to format the story was all over the place to me and a little confusing, but towards the end of the reading, I understood the purpose of her approach. I felt like it was a creative idea to inform people of the reality of being African American. That is no matter your background, how you dress, and how you carry yourself we are all viewed as being the same in some people's eyes and that we all face the same problems.

Brighten B. said...

The narrative led me to consider Thompson-Spires as a storyteller that she brought in all of these characters that were very different, but all faced the same problems and situations because of their skin color. One thought that I had her style of writing is that she does a very good job of bringing in the variety of the African American characters. She didn’t just bring them in for them to not be connected in some way, but instead she brought them in and connected them to an extremely strong aspect of their lives. Even though they did not all have the exact same experience dealing with being black, they all still had to face it.

Kamya Castro said...

I think the most noticeable aspect of her storytelling is the priority of where she focuses the story. In this portion we are following the lives, albeit briefly, of four characters that all at some point interact with one another in an larger story. Instead of focusing on the end of two of the character's life Nafissa focused on the life they had and in a way was celebrating their life rather than mourning their death. I think it shows that a person is important. This is very interesting to see!

Paris S. said...

The narrative leads me to believe that Thompson-Spires is a very detail-oriented storyteller. She creates these various characters who each have different "black experiences". It shows that even though these characters are black, they each had different experiences which makes their stories very compelling and unique.

Kayla Person said...

Thompson-Spires has a different way of writing, but they way she thoroughly describes each character and their experiences is very creative. All of her characters have had different personalities and experiences but they all share similar problems due to the color of their skin.

-Kayla P.

Ebonie Byrd said...

From this passage the reader is able to see the different perspectives and stories of black characters. I think this is significant because it shows the how normal day for black men that ends tragically and it also expresses how it not only directly effects the victims but also other African Americans.

Tymia Sleet said...

I think the author was a good storyteller in how she told the different stories of 4 different people and how they were all very different and their place in the world, but they all shared a similar experience because they were black.

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. Furthermore, 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.

Unknown said...

Thompson-Spire did an amazing job with these African-American characters. She gives each character depth and unique experiences. Although all of the characters are black, none of them have the same "black experience." Most authors give the characters in their books similar bases or situational experiences, however, Thompson-Spire made each characters' story unique. While she did this, she still related their differences to being black. Theses different paths and hardships endured by the characters made the story even more interesting and relatable to black experiences.

Kylie Jackson

Unknown said...

Thompson-Spire did an amazing job with these African-American characters. She gives each character depth and unique experiences. Although all of the characters are black, none of them have the same "black experience." Most authors give the characters in their books similar bases or situational experiences, however, Thompson-Spire made each characters' story unique. While she did this, she still related their differences to being black. Theses different paths and hardships endured by the characters made the story even more interesting and relatable to black experiences.

Kylie Jackson

A'nyse Huddleston said...

The author does an amazing job displaying 4 different but slightly similar perspectives of black students. The writing style is captivating and makes you think about different outlooks. It is true as black students in college we all do not have the same "black experience" simply because we all have different paths; however, we still know how to come together. Also, it has some uniqueness to each character. This shows we need to help one another regardless of what paths we take.

Arielle S. said...

Thompson-Spire is amazing at what she does with these 14 pages, and I like the order. in which we are reading because it made this a bit easier to understand. The story is told in pieces, which may have confused someone that was not paying close enough attention to detail as well as to one that cannot relate to the struggles and emotions behind the daily injustices Black people have to face as well as that of police brutality. The detail along with the gaps left for you to fill in really put you into the scene that she is describing. She is so specific and detailed in her explanations and scene-setting that it literally puts you into the book. She is an author that illustrates a pictureless book with her words. That is the very. best way to put it.

Deja L. said...

First I'd like to point out that I love this writing style. It's casual in a way that it's talking to me like a friend would, but still professional enough that I take it seriously. I also really liked how she emphasized that Riley was not anti-black.
The author made all these different characters go through different things, but gave them all some form of black grief. The first two men were shot by the police despite being very opposite people on the outside. The artist was able to feel this black grief and felt the need to sketch picture. The black experience is a shared experience whether I know certain people or not or if we go through the same things. It's still a shared hurt, trauma, and pain for us the same.
-Deja Lane

Elizabeth Kyande said...

A problem becomes everyone's problem if its on repeat in various people's lives. Thompson-spire does a really good job in mixing these four characters up but stays focus on the problem which is what these characters face because of their skin color especially in terms of police brutality. Her style of writing is deep enough to make the reader relate to all of the four characters as if one is really there at the scene.

-Elizabeth Kyande
4/2/2021

Elizabeth Kyande said...

A problem becomes everyone's problem if its on repeat in various people's lives. Thompson-spire does a really good job in mixing these four characters up but stays focus on the problem which is what these characters face because of their skin color especially in terms of police brutality. Her style of writing is deep enough to make the reader relate to all of the four characters as if one is really there at the scene.

-Elizabeth Kyande
4/2/2021

Walter Carroll said...

Nafissa Thompson-Spires storytelling has been exceptional thus far. Creating this "black network narrative" with all of these vastly unique African American people, really highlights just how diverse we can be as black people. She also makes it known however, that no matter how different we are from each other, other races will still put us under one general umbrella and treat us wrongly.

-Walter C.

Janielle F. said...

Nafissa Thompson-Spires has a really unique way of storytelling. She is able to tell a serious story with a bright tone as well as describe different types of people in a respectful manner. Although the characters are all different people, they are all still Black and Thompson-Spires makes a way to include that very idea in her writing.

Alleson Huntspon said...

I like to stick to one person one family stories but movies that contain several but here we got to see the 4 different groups of people this was really creative to me and I think it could even be made into a movie. As to why she picked this approach though I believe it was to show people who don't fully understand what we go through that it not only affects a certain portion of African Americans but our struggles affect us all as a whole. -Alleson H

Tatiana D. said...

This was a notable factor because it shows that aside from all of their differences, being Black is what makes them universally the most similar. Though they all lived different lifestyles, they all faced the same day-to-day struggles of being Black. This point alone proves that regardless of one's character or lifestyle of choice, certain challenges faced by the African American community are nearly inevitable.

Zaria Hankins said...

I think that Thompson-Spires has a very unique style of writing that feels conversational yet well thought out. I think that she is trying to make a big point that there isn’t just one “black experience”. I think her goal is to share various stories where all the characters are different and possess unique characteristics to represent the diverseness of the black people in real life since most times black people are written or showcased going through similar if not the same situations and obstacles. These four characters are all very different and yet the thing tying them all together is the traumatic events that tend to affect those with their skin color. Thompson-Spires writes about black people in a manner that makes them more than their skin color and I think this type of storytelling is what makes her writing so interesting to read.

Tyler Bean-Catencamp said...

I like how Nafissa Thompson-Spires gave perspective to all of these people's lives together despite them seeming to be so different one another. Her writing style brings you in with these descriptors of people, places, and events. The way she describes things is so deep and yet lighthearted. She describes the African-American characters in this book as complex humans. On page 1, where Riley is introduced, she spends half of a page giving us details about his appearance, personality, and mindset.

Lesley S. said...

The way this novel was formatted was a little confusing at first, but it made more sense the more I read. Thompson-spires talking about different struggles while being black in different perspectives. Although there were different characters involved, we can easily conclude that the black community faces a variety of struggles on a daily basis. Having grown up where I am from, I have never faced these struggles. Having a novel like this is very insightful for a person from me, specially when I am somewhat "sheltered" from the struggles of being a black person.

Jared Willis said...

I think the inclusion of the four different perspectives was majorly impactful. The four characters, although being very different from one another, all face issues dealing with the same thing, their race. By the author showing all the different perspectives and seeing that they still face the same issues us where the impact comes from. Through all the things that may make them different they still relate by being black and the struggles that come along with it.

-Jared Willis

Lexis Lewis said...

Thompson-Spires style of writing is detail-oriented that give a feel of realisms to to the "black experiences". With each chapter throughout the book there is a different experience that each character goes through. The approach she used throughout was the same describing the person before the major situation happened to give detail about who the character is before the scenario happened to them.

Aalita Cole said...

I'm continuously amazed by Nafissa Thompson-Spires ability to capture the essence of each character she portrays. I love how she shows each of their perspectives and ties it together to make one big connected story. The way she describes each African-American character is beautiful, even in the begin when she describes brother man and Riley she makes sure that the reader understands that they are human too and not criminals for just having one bad day.

Jalen White said...

I think this writing decision is rather profound. It does a great job of creating stand-alone characters with their own conflicts, while also adding some sort of through line to connect them to the black experience. I really appreciated this, because a stereotypical way to write this would make their connection much more noticeable, but in this way we see a bit of ourselves in these characters. It also makes the issues addressed more apparent, because of how it affects such a large segment of the characters.

Josy Kanyi said...

This chapter was very intriguing and I felt like it represented a lot of aspects of what it's like to be black. Their common denominator is that they don't feel valid in their blackness or that there will always be those that fail to understand that there is not a monochromatic way to be black. Black people can be unique and no matter how hard you try to embody the perfect black body, you'll never achieve it. Be your own version!

{Josy Kanyi}

Josy Kanyi said...

This chapter was very intriguing and I felt like it represented a lot of aspects of what it's like to be black. Their common denominator is that they don't feel valid in their blackness or that there will always be those that fail to understand that there is not a monochromatic way to be black. Black people can be unique and no matter how hard you try to embody the perfect black body, you'll never achieve it. Be your own version!

{Josy Kanyi}

Maurice King said...

After reading the passage, I had enjoyed how Thompson structured it. It showcased how each of the four characters who live different lives had faced the same problems. My understanding of this was even though everyone in this story has a different background to them, you will face the same challenges because of your race.

Jania Garrison said...

Thompson-Spire had an interesting approach when it came to telling the story of these four black characters. She pointed out the details in all of them that made them unique while still relating them to each other as far as their blackness. I like the way she focused on each characters story rather than the tragedy that takes place at the end of the story.

Paige G. said...

To me it shows how Spires can see the differences and people and understand how different the “black experience” is for so many people. I truly enjoy the style of writing especially because it showcases a different perspective than we typically get to see in modern day writing as well. She was able to give such broad details but specific enough that we have all felt something similar in some aspect and being able to create that kind of relatability is truly inspiring.

Vanessa H. said...

For this story I found it a tad more confusing than I would have liked. It is incredible hard to write a story, let alone 4 stories that all come together but for this one I had to read it twice to get the full effect. A story where every time you re-read it you gain a better understanding of the overall story line. A big part of the story line within each character was their appearance and I think that was a good thing to emphasize on because although each were different, they had a lot of the same struggles.
-Vanessa Hovey

K Carter said...

Thompson-Spires realizes the importance of embracing different personalities as African Americans. Not all black people have the same demeanor and it is important for this story to incorporate this.

Anonymous said...

One thing that I love about Nafissa Thompson-Spires's writing style is that she shows that even though black people can be different from each other, one thing always connects our life experiences. The color of our skin is something that effects us all differently and I like spire's creative and captivating style a lot.

Fatima Bashir

Chaianna Curry said...

I think that Thompson-Spires' took a really cool approach when writing this story. Instead of sticking to one point of view she decided to show readers the world through different lenses. Her creativity in this writing displayed the complexity not just of life, but specifically African American life and the everyday challenges that come with it. Readers were able to find characters similar to themselves as well as be introduced to the mindsets of characters different from them.

-Chai Curry

Anonymous said...

A very interesting thing for me about these 4 people is that I like how the author made sure to have 4 completely different Black people and show how even if they are nothing like each other, they still are going through the same hardships that other Black people go through. I think this is important because many people think that only black people that dress, or act "Black" are going to be treated badly, but in reality there is no way that a Black person can dress and get treated any differently from the others. Although we all may have different paths, we all end up going through a specific stage

-Richard Haley

Anonymous said...

Nafissa Thompson-Spires' creativity and use of "black network narrative" is very compelling as it connects completely different individuals with different backgrounds via their experiences. The connection stems from the common struggle black people face as a community. It also portrays how each individual handles these inherited struggles uniquely.

I'Lysa Walker 4/5/21

Nyah Crockett said...

Honestly, I love this style of writing. It gives the readers and flexibility that is hard to feel when only being able to view one person's side of the story. I know that others find it difficult and hard to follow, but I like being able to combine each character's feelings into a narrative in my head.

Being able to write the characters in a way that leaves the characters distinctive yet with still noticeable similarities is impressive.

Byron Coulter said...

From what I can see in her writing, I would consider that Thompson-Spires, as a story teller, is unique is her own way, but is also trying to do a little too much. It is hard to follow and understand what's going on because its a lot to take in and it kind of overloads the reader. But if you slow down and really try to understand where the author is coming from, then you can see that there's a organized but some what messy "collage" of characters. I say collage because even though a collage looks messed up from the start as you focus in on what pictures are in the collage you see that it turns out to be something beautiful.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, I believe that the way Nafissa Thompson-Spires connected these stories is brilliant. I love the fact that all of these people were completely different, yet somehow all connected at the end of the day. The way she was able to give us so many details into these character's lives, all of them different, and yet none of them were criminals, takes pure talent. I love that she didn't make these people into criminals and I also think she did a brilliant job painting a picture of what happens almost every day, which is the sad truth an unarmed black person gets killed and is somehow painted as the criminal. And I think it takes a lot of talent to do what she did.

-Tiffany Ellison 4/5/21

Anonymous said...

I thought it was significant that these 4 individuals were incorporated to show that even with the distinctions in their appearance and character, they all face a similar battle considering what they share practically speaking, their skin tone. These 4 alternate points of view show her ability as a narrator
Ashanti Young 4/5/21

Laurel White said...

In my opinion Nafissa Thompson-Spires has a wonderful tone and an even better command of her stories. I found the stories uncomfortable and biting and so very very clever. Her characters feel real if often difficult and the situations they find themselves in are frustrating and perfectly rendered.
-laurel white

Ta'mya Cummings said...

The way she wrote this part of the story was very creative and important. She showed the different viewpoints of each character and explained in detail how different they are on the inside, but they all have one thing common which is the color of their skin. It shows how the color of our skin sets a certain viewpoint for everyone as a whole which is not the case. With her writings, you have to think deeper and it makes you get connected to the story more, which is what I like about it.

Ta'mya Cummings said...

The way she wrote this part of the story was very creative and important. She showed the different viewpoints of each character and explained in detail how different they are on the inside, but they all have one thing common which is the color of their skin. It shows how the color of our skin sets a certain viewpoint for everyone as a whole which is not the case. With her writings, you have to think deeper and it makes you get connected to the story more, which is what I like about it.

Avery Owusu-Asiedu said...

I found it interesting how everyones story intersected one day. The author shows how the book is going to be laid out, with different stories for everyone so we can understand their backgrounds and where they come from, and then see how society treats them.

Cynthia Martin said...

The way Thompson-Spires is able to create this narrative of four very different but yet similar people shows her talent as story teller. At first it was difficult to understand and seemed all over the place. It was once I slowed down and paid attention to detail, I began to see how creative and clever it was.

Anonymous said...

The authors ability to express the similarities of being black in social settings in uncanny, given that the characters are from different walks of life in different situations but facing similar struggles due to the sole fact that they are colored is absolutely accurate and the authors talent in bringing these struggles to life in each of these situations is awestriking.

Kendall Fry, 4/6/21

Carah F. said...

It really fascinates me how she can tell all these different stories about the black experience without putting value on someone's blackness. She makes it very clear in each narrative that black people can have interests that line up with stereotypes and still face issues. For example, the first guy that was introduced, Riley, bleached his hair blonde, wore blue eye contacts, and was really interested in anime. The others were also black people that were individual. This story makes it clear that it doesn't matter how "black" you are or your personal values/interests, because society will try to paint us in a negative light often. However, that the reason why most people of the black community are so strong and supportive to everyone no matter their race.

-Carah F.

Anonymous said...

One thing I love about her storytelling is how in-depth she goes to create her characters and how precise she is at setting them up and aligning the narrative. Because she set up the characters, we were able to accurately place our characters that we met and see where they were before death claimed them. I think it was really interesting that despite the fact that they’re all completely different from one another, the struggles they face are similar because of the color of their skin. I love the different faces of blackness we get to see outside of what society stereotypes us as.
-Marianne Huck, 4/7/21

Thaira Mason said...

I believe that the importance of having 4 different black people to show that each every one is different even though they have a lot in common they have a lot in difference. With their appearances and personality but at the end of the day they all face the same struggle because of their skin color.

Alexis Short said...

It is very amazing how Nafissa can make so many different unique African Americans in her stories because it is unfortunate that in other peoples writing it can seem that all African Americans are the same and they absolutely are not. All people are unique rather it be gender or race and Nafissa is able to give the African Americans in her stories their own story that you may have never heard before. Though they are very different they all do go through the same struggles because of the color of their skin.

Alexis Short

Cheyenne Carpenter said...

I like how Nafissa included the four characters because they give us a perspective on the unique kinds of black people that you know exist, but don't know how different or similar the experiences that are shared by the stereotypical black people. She gives them a voice that is not common in our community and that is very appreciated.