Have you ever noticed how rare it is for African American literary scholars to be included in discussions of national concern? And more, when and if you hear from those scholars, they are almost never situated at HBCUs or in other places where they work with large numbers of black students?
For those reasons, I was especially interested and proud last week to see Dana Williams on a few different news outlets. She was interviewed on MSNBC and Democracy Now, and she wrote an article "Virginia governor race highlights irony of banning 'Beloved' from schools" for NBC News.
Williams was called on to respond to the controversy surrounding Toni Morrison's Beloved, which became a talking point in the governor's race in Virginia after the Republican candidate ran an ad that showed a parent trying to ban the novel because it allegedy gave her son nightmares.
Last week in her appearances and in her article, Williams put Toni Morrison, her novels, and literary treatments of slavery into multiple contexts. She also pointed out "how petrified this nation is of its past, especially when that past challenges American myths of freedom and justice for all."
At one point, Williams notes that "There are some stories only fiction can tell." So often, historians, journalists, sociologists are called in to explain black experience in this country. But that statement from Williams seems to make the case that specialists in African American literary studies, for instance, might deserve a little more of our attention.
Last week, in an article for the Washington Post on Morrison's novel and this Virginia controversy, literary scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin noted that if Beloved "is 'obscene,' that is because the institution of slavery was obscene. The novel is about slavery — including, but not limited to, the sexual abuse that it encouraged and relied upon as a tool of power."
News outlets have been reaching out to Williams in large part because she is the president of the Toni Morrison Society (TMS). In moments like these, thank goodness for the TMS. What if Carolyn Denard hadn't had the foresight in 1993, to establish an organization to bring people together to illuminate the works of Toni Morrison?
And, mmm mmm, mmm, thank goodness for Dana Williams. Can you imagine what would have happened if there was no adept, experienced black literary specialist like her to turn to on the matter of Beloved?Related