Flash Readings, Episode 6: “Colson Whitehead Will Break You, Too”

Harriet Tubman (left), with rescued family and neighbors, circa 1887, at her home in Auburn, New York. From left: Gertie Davis; Nelson Davis; Lee Chaney; “Pop” John Alexander; Walter Green; Blind “Aunty” Sarah Parker; Dora Stewart. Photograph by William H. Cheney, via Wikimedia Commons. Logo by Yongmin Kim.

In Flash Reading 6, Brittain Fellow Matt Dischinger analyzes a scene from the South Carolina chapter of The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s prize-winning novel set in the antebellum United States. In this scene, the protagonist, named Cora, gives the “evil eye” to a former charge, Maisie, who doesn’t recognize her in costume as a living prop in the museum’s “Darkest Africa” exhibit. Dischinger reads the confrontation between Cora and Maisie as an allegory of the relationship Whitehead anticipates between his readers and his novel. Moreover, Dischinger argues, this novel about what is most often taken as evidence of the “good” in American history leverages the speculative mode in order to “challenge our ideas of progress.” His article, “States of Possibility,” about The Underground Railroad and its “speculative satire” is in the current special issue of The Global South, titled Engaging with the Poetics of Peripheralization.

The podcast above can be played using the embedded player or downloaded as an mp3 file.

Look out later this month for Flash Reading 7, featuring TECHStyle co-editor Anna Ioanes, on the formal “thresholds” of violence in M. NourbeSe Philip’s book-length poetic sequence Zong!


Works Cited

Dischinger, Matthew. “States of Possibility in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.” Engaging with the Poetics of Peripheralization, special issue of The Global South, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, pp. 82–99.

Whitehead, Colson. “Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” Is a Literal Train to Freedom.” Fresh Air, by Terry Gross, from NPR, 8 Aug. 2016, https://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air.

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. Doubleday, 2016.

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. Narrated by Bahni Turpin, Audible, 2016. Audiobook.

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Lauren A Neefe

About Lauren A Neefe

Lauren Neefe is a lecturer in Georgia Tech's School of Literature, Media, and Communication, where she teaches multimodal courses on sound, Romanticism, and epistolary genres. Her scholarship focuses on Romantic media and genre, in particular the articulation of letter writing and poetry in print. She has an article on Romanticism and Conceptualism forthcoming in Jacket2.
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