LearningLife Stories

Our Myriad Shadows: Slavery in Literature

Awakening from the American Dream

To be unaware, in this day and age, of the countless issues regarding racial relations and the dark history of the United States is to keep one’s head buried in the sand. It seems that no news story can run without commenting upon the ethnicity of those involved and how this reflects the public consciousness. After hundreds of years, why are these questions still unanswered?

Professor Emerita Toni McNaron is grateful to have the opportunity to open this discussion. Her previous LearningLife course, Black and White in Three Genres, was more than popular and had a substantial waiting list. “The students, all white, worked hard and said how much they welcomed a place to talk about race by reading powerful literature by black writers. So in these painful times when racism seems more virulent than ever, I have made a commitment to use my teaching skills to introduce adult learners to works that treat this issue.”

Her fall course, Our Myriad Shadows: Slavery in Literature, focuses on slavery as the system that built the culture we inhabit easily or with considerable difficulty. It brings to the fore the voices of the oppressed, it peers into the perspective of the oppressors, and it opens a discussion about our personal and collective status and obligations in the present day.

Is this going to be an easy, comfortable discussion? “I can only say that not facing up to the history and consequences of enslaving other human beings for economic and personal gain just prolongs the miasma that we feel when we watch the nightly news,” McNaron cautions. Yet, as with her previous course, “This class provides an entirely safe way to begin and continue necessary work if we hope ever to fulfill the stated goals of this country.”

Course Details

Our Myriad Shadows: Slavery in Literature
Thursdays, Sept. 28, Oct. 19, and Nov. 16, 6−8 p.m., $135

Toni McNaron is professor emerita of English at the University of Minnesota where she was the recipient of five awards for outstanding teaching, including the College of Continuing Education’s Distinguished Educator Award. McNaron’s most recent book is Into the Paradox: Conservative Spirit, Feminist Politics (Hurley Publishing, 2013).