Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner

William Styron’s historical novel The Confessions of Nat Turner won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968. The novel made the world conscious of the slave revolt in Virginia led by Turner in 1831. Styron was a white writer from Virginia. In response to the success of Styron’s novel, an anthology of African-American criticism was published by Beacon Press featuring the work 10 different critics. In addition to the criticism of Styron there were a number of African-American writers who were encouraged and praised Styron for his work, most notably James Baldwin. Baldwin predicted that the history of the rebellion would continue to be written for years. This remains true today.

This May, our Thursday literature group will read Styron’s novel, the Beacon Press anthology, William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, as well as the essay Baldwin wrote in defense of Styron. Many profound questions concerning race, class, the rendering of historical presentation, claims on sectors of our shared history, etc. are raised in the novel and in the anthology. We will discuss as many of these questions as possible including having a careful read of Baldwin’s essay on the work. This class is also part of The MEP noting this being a half-century since the pivotal year of 1968.

THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES READING GROUP which has grown from the enthusiastic call for the need of greater understanding of the long history of the peoples of North America and other continents of the world who were of those continents before and remain after the European colonists came to settle and bring this capitalist relations to every corner of the globe. Our group began following a stirring presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz September of 2014 where she introduced An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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An Indigenous People’s Reading Group

Today, in the United States, there are more than 500 federally recognized indigenous communities and nations comprising nearly three million people. These are the descendants of the 15 million people who once inhabited this land and are the subject of the latest book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the indigenous peoples was genocidal and imperialist—designed to crush the original inhabitants. We will read this history that spans more than 300 years, along with Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead as a companion “fictional” narrative.

Almanac of the Dead takes place against the backdrop of the American Southwest and Central America. It follows the stories of dozens of characters. Much of the story takes place in the present day, although lengthy flashbacks and indigenous mythology interweave throughout. The novel’s numerous characters are often separated by both time and space. Many of characters are involved in either crime or revolution.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of San Francisco, grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a farmer and half-Indian mother. She has been active in the American Indian Movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues.

Leslie Marmon Silkowas was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Silko has noted herself as being one-quarter Laguna Pueblo (a Keres-speaking tribe), also identifying as Anglo American and Mexican American. Silko grew up on the edge of pueblo society at the edge of the Laguna Pueblo reservation. While her parents worked, Silko and her two sisters were cared for by their grandmother, Lillie Stagner, and great-grandmother, Helen Romero, both story-tellers. Silko learned much of the traditional stories of the Laguna people from her grandmother, whom she called A’mooh, her aunt Susie, and her grandfather Hank during her early years.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Reading Group has grown from the enthusiastic call for the need of greater understanding of the long history of the peoples of North America who were here before and remain after the European colonists came to settle and bring this hemisphere and those peoples under their control and exploitation, following a stirring presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz this past September.

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