The Gryphon Lecture is given annually during the spring semester and features a leading scholar in the fields of youth literature, media, and/or culture. Gryphon Lectures are free and open to students and the public. A reception to discuss issues raised, network across departments, and meet with the speaker follows each lecture. Illinois educators are eligible to receive professional development credits for participation. To see a list of of past Gryphon Lectures, please visit this page.
The 2024 Gryphon Lecture, “Grappling with Martin Luther King Jr. in Youth Literature: Sequence as Resistance” will be presented by Professor Katharine Capshaw on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Room 126 at 501 E. Daniel St. The event will also be held online. To register for the Zoom meeting click here.
Abstract: Representing Martin Luther King Jr., the most iconic figure of the Civil Rights Movement, is an enormous challenge. Not only is he used as shorthand in schools and popular culture for the entire complicated movement, but his words and ideas have been appropriated and deployed to support a range of political positions and attitudes. Focusing singularly on King also often sidelines the many people, approaches, and events that constitute the movement, and his assassination can signal the end of social justice efforts rather than a moment in continual struggle. My presentation considers texts that render King (and many others in the movement) with complexity. How does our engagement with King change when we see him not as an iconic figure of memory, but walking the stage in plays like Alice Childress’ Young Martin Luther King Jr. (1970)? How does representation in comics panels, as in The Montgomery Story (1957) and John Lewis’s March trilogy (2013-2016), allow us to resist King as static icon? The sequence in comics and stage performance may make King a more mutable figure, enabling the story of the movement to include both his heroism and the idea of civil rights work as an ongoing collaborative struggle for social justice.
Katharine Capshaw is professor of English and Associate Dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Connecticut. She is the author of Civil Rights Childhood: Picturing Liberation in African American Photobooks and Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance. With Anna Mae Duane, Capshaw is editor of Who Writes for Black Children? African American Children’s Literature Before 1900. She is working on a book titled, Children’s Theatre of the Black Arts Movement.
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