For the third week in a row, I have read a book for my graduate course that I think my students would be able to read (much more than the canonized novels), would enjoy reading (much more than the canonized novels), and would have a stronger impact on them as humans (much more than the canonized novels). And of the three I have read so far (the first two were How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Jazz), I strongly believe that Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred deserves a spot in the curriculum.
Butler utilizes a device that would hook most juniors in high school: time travel. My students would think that I had lost my mind to assign them a book about time travel; they know that I am not a fan of YA lit or trendy books. But the topic of the novel is riveting; the main character, an African-American woman, repeatedly travels back in time to the plantation where her ancestors were living (I am being deliberately vague using the word living for anyone who would like to experience the book). She both witnesses and experiences the violence and brutality of plantation life in 1819; Butler’s writes using a first-person narrator so that the sensory details are vivid moreso that third-person description. The narrator even has a few moments of metafiction comparing those events with the ones she had been accustomed to seeing in movies, a definite poke at the reader.
I wrote more about my idea that literature that allows the reader an I-was-there-experience, especially on a topic that is not relatable to the average white, middle class person, is much more effective than a third person narrative in my blog post for the ENG 5010 class. That post is available at Writing (about) Time . You can also read more posts by my classmates about Kindred and the topic of time travel in their posts.