It is that time of year again, the time of year when I reminisce about some of the things that I have written and done over the past year. Last post, I talked about writing essays for On the Stump and Bitter Root. I talked about learning some of the racist history of my hometown and the massacre that occurred in 1868. I talked about the ways that the present repeats the past, because the past is never past. Before ringing in the new year, one that will hopefully be much better than the one we are leaving, I want to highlight three more things that I worked on this past year.

Rediscovering Frank Yerby: Critical Essays

This past spring, Rediscovering Frank Yerby: Critical Essays came out from the University of Press of Mississippi. This book originated way back in 2015 when I really started reading Yerby’s work. It arose out of a desire to bring Yerby’s work back to the public forefront and back into the classroom. While some in the academy, as Darwin Turner noted, tend to be ashamed of reading Yerby because he is a “pulp writer,” he has a lot to offer readers and scholars alike. I see him in relation to a long line of African American authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Shirley Anne Williams and more who wrote what Veronica Watson calls “literature of white estrangement,” and in relation to fellow Georgian Lillian Smith. Yerby needs to be in conversation with all of these authors and more.

The edited collection does just that through an examination of multiple aspects of Yerby’s writing from the social protest aspects of his work to his interrogations of religion and Christianity. With this spectrum, the contributors to the collection position Yerby as an important literary figure of the mid to late 2twentieth century, a figure who worked alongside writers such as Dorothy West, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright. The essays challenge Robert Bone’s argument that Yerby was nothing more than the “prince of pulpsters,” and they highlight his continued relevance in the interrogation and illumination of whiteness.

Dope with Lime

“Dope with Lime” is the podcast I started at the Lillian E. Smith Center. Since December of 2020, we have recorded and published eleven episodes over two seasons. The name comes from the column that Smith wrote for the journal her and Paula Snelling published between 1936 and 1945. The column allowed Smith, as Rose Gladney points out, to be pointed and witty, and it has an almost blog like nature to it. It was a space where Smith could let loose a little, showcasing her biting humor and wit.

Over the past year, I have talked with guests about a wide range of topics from the personal journey that Karen Branan took in writing about her family’s connection to a lynching in Georgia in The Family Tree to exploring the ways that comics and Lillian Smith intersect with Donna-Lyn Washington and Chuck Brown. I spoke with guests such as Nicole Robinson about her work as a Narrative Medicine Coordinator and her time at the LES Center working on her own writing. I’ve talked with Jaleesa Harris about teaching and pedagogy and the importance of representation in the texts we teach and in the classroom. All of these conversations have been informative and engaging, providing different viewpoints on a myriad of topics. I have guests lined up for upcoming episodes, so make sure to stay tuned to the LES Center’s social media feeds for updates.

Graphic Memoir Project

Every semester, I try to do something new with students in my classroom. Over the past few years, I’ve been moving away from the traditional essay/research paper assignment towards projects where students can take what they have learned and discussed and create whatever they want. Last spring, I centered my composition class around graphic memoirs, and for the final project, I had students create their own graphic memoirs. Along with the graphic memoir, students had to produce a 500 artistic statement, basically a statement discussing the choices they made and the sources that influenced their final project.

When I assign a new project in classes, I make sure that I do it right alongside students, either before the semester or during the semester. I do not want my students to do something that I have not done before. For this project, I made a short graphic memoir about Lillian Smith, and I walked them through my process from choosing the app that I chose to structuring the text itself. Walking my students through the process helped me think about how to tweak this assignment when I do it again, but more importantly it showed my students that I was learning right alongside them.

I had never made a graphic memoir or comic before. I had only read and analyzed them up to that point. The project required me to do what I want students to do, take the knowledge they learn from the readings (both the graphic memoirs themselves and from comics scholarship) and apply that knowledge to their own projects, creating something from what they learn. The pandemic hindered this project some because we had to shift online halfway through the semester, but the end results from students were awesome. Some, like me, used apps that allow you to insert pictures into pre-structured page layouts while others illustrated their own texts. No matter what process they chose, they created graphic memoirs. We stepped out of our comfort zones, using the knowledge we acquired to create texts that didn’t just regurgitate information but instead took information and molded it into its own creation.

These are the types of projects I enjoy having student do for my courses. They place all of us on the same level in the class because we are all learning and creating together. We are, essentially, producing knowledge and art alongside one another. For me, this is education. This is pedagogy. This is what we should be doing. As Kevin Gannon puts it, “I am their ally, and learning is our mutual goal.”

With all of the hardships of 2020, what are some of your favorite moments? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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