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Lamstein Lecture on Children's Literature

Ebony Thomas

We read and listen to stories not only to be informed but also as a way to enter worlds that are not like our own. Stories provide mirrors, windows, and doors into other existences, both real and imagined. A sense of the infinite possibilities inherent in fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction, comics, and graphic novels draws children, teens, and adults from all backgrounds to speculative fiction – also known as the fantastic. However, when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, we often discover that the doors are barred. Even the very act of dreaming of worlds-that-never-were can be challenging when the known world does not provide many liberatory spaces.

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination in Youth Literature, Media, and Culture (forthcoming, New York University Press) argues that the presence of Black characters in speculative fiction creates a dilemma. The way that this dilemma is most often resolved is by enacting violence against the character, who then haunts the narrative. This is what readers of the fantastic expect, for it mirrors the spectacle of symbolic violence against dark-skinned people in our own world.

The Dark Fantastic explores the fantastic from the perspectives of four stories, four fantastic worlds, and four Black girl protagonists – Bonnie Bennett from Alloy and the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In her chapter on The Vampire Diaries book series and television show, for example, Thomas examines the way that Bonnie is positioned vis-à-vis beauty and desirability politics, privileging her story over that of White protagonist Elena Gilbert. This critical race counterstorying perspective examines how race and the imagination bend such texts at the seams, contorting both space and time.

Through emancipated imaginations, endarkened and made whole, the literary landscape for our young people can indeed be made anew—and turned upside down.
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When and Where

Map Museum of Art - Helmut Stern Auditorium

April 2018

5:30pm - 6:30pm

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