Over the last couple of posts, I have written about the monstrosity of racism in P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout and in David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene’s Bitter Root. Since I am teaching this texts this semester, I reached out to Clark to see if he might be available to Zoom in with my class. Unfortunately, he would not be able to Zoom in with my class; however, just as Malaka Gharib was gracious enough to speak with me about her work so I could share with my class and you, Clark was gracious enough to allow me to do the same thing as we discussed Ring Shout and more.

My conversation with Clark covered a myriad of topics, and while I wrote out five questions for the interview, we didn’t get to discuss all of them. You can read all of the questions below, and you can discuss your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. The main thread running through my discussion with Clark focused on the ways that media, specificlly films, impact our psyche, reinforcing the culturally held beliefs that buttress white supremacy. We talked about D.W. Griffin’s Birth of a Nation (1915), David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Gone with The Wind (1939), and John M. Stahl’s adaptation of Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow (1947). Along with all of this, we talked about pedagogical practices, particularly in relation to what images we choose to show and not show in classes. This is something I think about a lot as I teach, and I am glad that Clark and I dove into this topic some during our conversation.

Questions:

  1. One of the central threads that runs throughout Ring Shout is the power of media to inculcate individuals to hate. The novella focuses on the impact of D.W. Griffin’s Birth of Nation, which lead to the resurgence of the Klan in the United States, not just in the South but also in the Midwest and beyond. Media, overall, has an impact. In 1938, one year before the theatrical debut of Gone with the Wind, Walter White wrote to the director David O. Selznick stating that the “motion picture, appealing as it does to both the visual and the auditory senses, reaches so many Americans, particularly of the middle classes, that infinite arm could be done in a critical period like this one, when racial hatred and prejudices are so alive.” Can you talk about the impact of media on one’s world view and on the importance of having representation in not just film but also in all forms of media?
  2. Ring Shout connects Maryse, Chef, and Sadie not just to their roots in their African American roots in the South but to the African diaspora through their interactions with Nana Jean and others. There are references throughout the novella to Bruh Rabbit and Bruh Bear, Anansi, bottle trees, the flying African, and much more. Can you discuss what role these connections play within the novella and why we all need to remember these connections?
  3. When Dr. Bisset tries to convince Maryse to accept the Grand Cyclops’ offer, she thinks to herself, “This is my pain. My scar to carry. Ain’t theirs to feast on, to suck dry like marrow from a bone. I’ve had enough of monsters, devouring bits of me, trying to eat me up altogether.” When I read this, and I think about other moments in the novella, I think about the continued presence in media, specifically films, of Black individuals suffering or dying in excruciating pain. How does Maryse push back against this, not just within the context of the novella? How have others pushed back against this representation in media?
  4. Throughout Ring Shout, Maryse confronts the racial violence that has been enacted against her and others. The Grand Cyclops works to seduce to hate. Maryse doesn’t buy into the Grand Cyclops’ argument of hate for hate, even though her hate is firmly justified. At one point, when Butcher Clyde starts singing on top of Stone Mountain, she says, “What I have is beautiful music inspired by struggle and fierce love. What he got ain’t nothing but hateful noise.” Can you talk some about Maryse’s decision to reject the power offered to her and her comment about the music she carries within her very being?
  5. I taught Ring Shout a couple of weeks before we started David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene’s comics series Bitter Root. At one point in that series, the white ally of the Sangeryes, a family of monster hunters who cure individuals infected with racism, dies at the hands of Adro, an entity that reminds me some of the Grand Cyclops. When killing Johnnie-Ray, Adro comments on the hate and fear that still reside within the white Johnnie-Ray, but Adro tastes something else as well, hope. For all of the hate and fear that permeate Ring Shout,. hope remains, even hen the Dark Prince arises at the end. Can you talk some about the hope we find within Ring Shout and why we need to always hold on to hope?

There’s a lot more that Clark and I spoke about, and you can listen to our conversation on YouTube. What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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