Research Project Drabbles

Being an English major with a passionate (and at times questionable) love of young adult novels, I thought I should center my final project on teen readership. Aside from the obvious issues of lack of black representation in the genre, I had questions about how black teens are reading these texts, and what they’re reading.

When I reflect on my teenage years, most of the stories I remembered reading and loving were supernatural, sci-fi, and… well, white. This wasn’t to say I didn’t read any Morrison and the like, but in the young adult section all the black authors had stories of tragedy. In my time as a teen I maybe came across 2 books that had main characters of color doing “normal” teen things or were in fantasy worlds. Too much of our stories centered on gang violence, slavery, or some tragedy stationed in an ambiguous Africa (shade to publishers, not the authors). I recognized that these stories being told were necessary to our literary canon, but I hungered for stories of black teens being black teens. So with no solution in site I continued to read fantastical novels.

But when I look back I wonder to myself was that really it? Was it because I couldn’t find black fantasy or was it because my environment was predominately white? I wanted to be able to relate with my friends in school and read what they read, and they weren’t reading Octavia Butler, Jamaica Kincaid, or even Sista Souljah. My mom was the one who introduced The Coldest Winter Ever, the novel that spawned street lit as we know it and rocked almost every black girls’ world but mine, to me. My church friends and Del-teens group* (read: my black girl friends) loved the novel, yet I couldn’t even finish it. I hated it and I felt defective for it. I wondered why I could relate or at least sympathize with characters who time traveled, started revolutions, or saw ghosts, but couldn’t find it in myself to even like Winter Santiaga. So this served as a driving force for my project. “How do predominately white environments (in academia) effect black female readership?”

Together with Prof. Manigault-Bryant, we formulated the idea of a book club with primarily underclassmen at Williams to read The Coldest Winter Ever and The Hunger Games to see how black women are reading blackness and alternatively whiteness (in THG) in these novels. So far I expect questions of desiring a mirror vs. window out in literature/reality vs. fantasy, urban vs. suburban environments, and school vs. home in dealing with books to crop up, but I never know what this will bring. I’m hoping for 5 sessions (two with THG, two with TCWE, and 1 wrap-up) to take place in November, but we’ll see.

This is where I’m at now.

*Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Albany chapter had a female youth group I was a part of until my senior year in high school.

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  10. Dimple says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insights and your upcoming research project. Your personal experiences as a young reader resonate with many of us who have grown up loving books but struggled to find characters who looked like us or experienced similar lives. It’s crucial to recognize the significance of diverse representation in young adult literature.

    Diverse representation not only enriches the reading experiences of young people but also plays a vital role in building empathy and understanding across different backgrounds. When young readers encounter characters who share their cultural or racial identity, it can be empowering and affirming. It sends the message that their stories matter and that they too can be heroes in their own narratives.

    Your book club project sounds fascinating, and I’m excited to hear more about the discussions and insights that emerge from it. It’s not just about reading for pleasure; it’s about exploring the complexities of identity, belonging, and the power of storytelling. I hope your research contributes to a broader conversation about the need for more diverse voices in literature and the profound impact it can have on young minds.

    In addition to ‘The Coldest Winter Ever’ and ‘The Hunger Games,’ you might also consider exploring and recommending other young adult novels that feature strong, relatable black characters in various genres. This could further expand the horizons of young readers and offer them a more comprehensive view of the possibilities within literature.

    Thank you for your commitment to this important topic, and I look forward to following your project’s progress.

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