February 25, 2011 Years ago, when Nashville novelist Alice Randall–author, most recently, of Rebel Yell–read bedtime stories to her daughter Caroline, she fielded a lot of questions about the way African-American characters were portrayed in children’s literature:
“Eventually Caroline asked why the author hadn’t chosen to write about a black girl living in Harlem during the Renaissance, or a black girl growing up as a campus kid on a historically black college like Fisk. She wanted to know why her white friends got books with characters who looked like them and drank tea in Colonial Williamsburg (Felicity), or lived in a mansion (Samantha) while she got a character that looked like her and got tortured.”
Caroline was lucky. Her mother is a celebrated writer, and her great grandfather, Arna Bontemps, was both a poet and the head librarian at Fisk University in Nashville, where he created an archive of great African American literature. So when Alice Randall needed a story to counteract the American Girl version of reality that puzzled Caroline, she knew another kind of bedtime story to read to her daughter. In an essay in Black Voices, she explains why “Bedtime in the briarpatch is the powerful place black children grow the intellectual and emotional strength to discern when to upturn a world that will not uplift them.”
Read the full essay here.
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