Monday, March 7, 2016

Lynching 101: the NCSCL 2016 Visiting Scholar's Lecture

Lynching 101: Young Adult Primers on the Murder of Emmett Till

The NCSCL 2016 Visiting Scholar's Lecture

Event Details: 
University of South Carolina

Date: Wednesday, March 23rd
Time: 5:00-6:30 pm
Place: Love Library-Leon Williams Room(430 & 431)

In her article, “Narrative Tensions: Telling Slavery, Showing Violence,” in Ann Lawson Lucas’s edited volume The Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature (2003), Paula Connolly articulates a common tension in children’s books—particularly picture booksthat depict violence.  She says:
Clearly the problem in publishing picture books about such issues derives from the specific age range of the books’ intended audience: to erase the violence of such events would be to mitigate the atrocity itself, yet including violence could easily alienate or terrify very young children.  For example, in retelling U.S. slavery, how does one portray—in pictures and for such a young audience—scenes of whippings, murders, rapes, and the forcible separation of families?  In short, how does one tell the truth? (107)
Telling the truth—gruesome and unspeakable as it is—is precisely what Simeon Wright does in Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till (2011), what David Robson does in The Murder of Emmett Till (2010), what Marilyn Nelson does in A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005), what Chris Crowe does in Getting Away with Murder (2003) and what Stephen J. Whitfield does in A Death in the Delta: the Story of Emmett Till (1991).  Unlike the picture books of which Connolly writes, these texts are primarily for young adults.  But like the picture books, these texts do have illustrations and deal with emotional issues that are unusually difficult for their intended audience.

These texts differ widely in terms of their format, their use of visual images, the reading level of the text as well as their approach to telling the ugly details of the lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi in 1955. Yet they all offer some compelling answers to the questions that Connolly raises about the depiction of violence in literature for young people.  This presentation will explore a number of versions of the Emmett Till story in an effort to uncover strategies the authors use to maintain historical veracity while addressing young people about a topic that horrifies even most adults.  Despite their generic variety, all of these texts employ visual and/or textual confrontation, stark juxtapositions, and social and historical contextualization that help readers make sense of the era in which Emmett Till lived and died. 

Michelle Martin

Michelle Martin has been the inaugural Augusta Baker Endowed Chair in Childhood Literacy at the University of South Carolina in the School of Library and Information Science since August 2011, where she teaches courses in children's and young adult literature to undergraduate students in the education department and graduate students in the School of Library and Information Science. Prior to this position at USC, she taught for 12 years in the English Department at Clemson University. She holds a B.A. from The College of William and Mary (1988), an M.S. in Outdoor Teacher Education from Northern Illinois University (1991) (which she considers her Girl Scout degree), and a Ph.D. in English, specializing in Children's and Young Adult Literature and Composition, from Illinois State University (1997).

Martin published Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children's Picture Books, 1845-2002 with Routledge in 2004 and co-edited (with Claudia Nelson) Sexual Pedagogies: Sex Education in Britain, Australia, and America, 1879-2000 (Palgrave, 2003). Michelle has published articles in The Lion and the Unicorn, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Sankofa: a Journal of African Children's and Young Adult Literature, and Obsidian III, among others.  She is currently working on a book-length critical examination of the collaborative and individual works that Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes wrote for young people during their friendship and collaborative working relationship that lasted from the 1920s until the 1960s. Its working title is Dream Keepers for Children of the Sun: the Children¹s Literature of Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes.

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