Book Discussion: Imagining American Slavery with Dr. Richard Bell

Book Discussion: Imagining American Slavery with Dr. Richard Bell


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This four-part book discussion series offers the chance to learn about, read, and informally discuss four popular and prize-winning novels written by modern masters of the literary craft Toni Morrison, Edward P. Jones, Colson Whitehead, and M. T. Anderson.

Slavery, America’s original sin, has produced some of the most powerful works of modern fiction. This four-session book discussion series offers the chance to learn about, read, and informally discuss four popular and prize-winning novels written by modern masters of the literary craft that tackle the experiences of enslaved people in America and their struggles to resist and escape their bondage.

Join Richard Bell, a professor of history at the University of Maryland, for short and vivid fifteen-minute lectures about each work followed by an inclusive seventy-five-minute discussion driven by your own comments and questions. Participants should read the week’s novel before each session.

Lecture 1: Toni Morrison, Beloved

Published in 1987, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s masterpiece and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Set after the Civil War and inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, Beloved imagines the afterlives of slavery as a series of hauntings that expose the effects of intergenerational trauma and the enduring bonds between parents and children.

Recommended edition: Vintage, 2004. ISBN: 978-1400033416

Lecture 2: Edward P. Jones, The Known World

Distinguished by its raw beauty and moral complexity, The Known World, published in 2003, is another winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Its entrancing story, set in a fictional Virginia county in the 1850s, riffs on the fact that a small number of African Americans living in the United States before the Civil War owned other Black men, women, and children as slaves.

Recommended edition: Amistad, 2004. ISBN: 978-0060557553

Lecture 3: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Published in 2016, The Underground Railroad is a wildly imaginative alternative history of American slavery that conjures into existence a secretive transportation system of trains, tunnels, and stations beneath the slave states. Remixing the true stories of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Recommended edition: Anchor, 2016. ISBN: 978-0345804327

Lecture 4: M. T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol 1: The Pox Party

Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing tells the fantastical tale of a Black boy growing up in Boston during the Revolution. Both prodigy and slave, Octavian’s life evokes those of Phillis Wheatley and Benjamin Banneker. The result is something wholly new and very strange.

Recommended edition: Candlewick, 2008. ISBN: 978-0763636791

Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar Award. Professor Bell is author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home, which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize.

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Participants are expected to read the four books mentioned, in advance of each lecture.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

Not suitable for children under age 13 (sensitive content).

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 15 reviews
100%
(15)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
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0%
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M
M.C.C.
History and Archaeology of Olive OilBoojk Discussion Octavian Noting

Outstanding

G
G.K.
History, literature and quality conversations

This throughly engaging 4 week book discussion series on American Slavery was the highlight of my week! Dr. Bell brings the context of the book setting to life with his captivating lectures and his expansive book discussion questions. The learned attendees were open minded, articulate and well prepared. This combination brought the books, characters, writing and history together for some delicious seminars.

M
M.T.
A wonderful book group experience!

Loved, loved, loved the book discussion group Imagining American Slavery! The chosen books were excellent. In his usual way, Dr. Bell was well-prepared -- with material to place aspects of each book in context, and with interesting and thought-provoking questions. All participants read the books and contributed to the lively discussions. All-in-all, a very successful Context offering!

V
V.
Fantastic 4-Week Book Club

This four-session book discussion course on prize-winning novels that address slavery and the aftermath of enslavement was terrific! Each week Dr. Bell would start off with a 30-minute lecture setting the context for the novel we would discuss for the next hour. He also prepared questions to drive our discussions. After the first week of some awkwardness among strangers, we, the participants became comfortable speaking in front of each other, and with each passing week the discussions became more and more dynamic and exciting. Dr. Bell is a great moderator of discussions like these because he himself is a very deep thinker, so he brings that to the questions he posed and the conversation with us, but he also has a wicked sense of humor, which made the sessions even more fun and eventually led some participants to also relax into humor occasionally. I would take another book discussion of this sort with Dr. Bell in a heartbeat, and the same was said by most participants in the last session.

J
J.Y.
Excellent Course

I have read several books I'd never read before since I've started taking Dr. Bell's Book Discussions. I highly recommend his courses!

Customer Reviews

Based on 15 reviews
100%
(15)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
M
M.C.C.
History and Archaeology of Olive OilBoojk Discussion Octavian Noting

Outstanding

G
G.K.
History, literature and quality conversations

This throughly engaging 4 week book discussion series on American Slavery was the highlight of my week! Dr. Bell brings the context of the book setting to life with his captivating lectures and his expansive book discussion questions. The learned attendees were open minded, articulate and well prepared. This combination brought the books, characters, writing and history together for some delicious seminars.

M
M.T.
A wonderful book group experience!

Loved, loved, loved the book discussion group Imagining American Slavery! The chosen books were excellent. In his usual way, Dr. Bell was well-prepared -- with material to place aspects of each book in context, and with interesting and thought-provoking questions. All participants read the books and contributed to the lively discussions. All-in-all, a very successful Context offering!

V
V.
Fantastic 4-Week Book Club

This four-session book discussion course on prize-winning novels that address slavery and the aftermath of enslavement was terrific! Each week Dr. Bell would start off with a 30-minute lecture setting the context for the novel we would discuss for the next hour. He also prepared questions to drive our discussions. After the first week of some awkwardness among strangers, we, the participants became comfortable speaking in front of each other, and with each passing week the discussions became more and more dynamic and exciting. Dr. Bell is a great moderator of discussions like these because he himself is a very deep thinker, so he brings that to the questions he posed and the conversation with us, but he also has a wicked sense of humor, which made the sessions even more fun and eventually led some participants to also relax into humor occasionally. I would take another book discussion of this sort with Dr. Bell in a heartbeat, and the same was said by most participants in the last session.

J
J.Y.
Excellent Course

I have read several books I'd never read before since I've started taking Dr. Bell's Book Discussions. I highly recommend his courses!