Teaching Nat Turner

I think Nat Turner definitely deserves re-reading, and that re-reading would be a great tool for students to fully comprehend the text. There are plenty of ways I think this graphic narrative or novel could be taught:

1) Present a difficulty-paper assignment that has students recognize why they have a difficult time reading the text (i.e. because of the genre, because of the historical context).

2) On a more creative note, have students write one to two sentences of text for what is going on in the parts like “Home” that rely only on images. Or conversely, have students draw their own images for what is going on for a portion of the text of Nat Turner’s confessions.

3) Similarly, you could have students attempt to create their own (shortened version) of a graphic narrative. To relate it to the text, you could have students create one regarding some injustice they felt they have experienced.

I first came across the graphic novel in reading Maus I and Maus II in my undergraduate Holocaust literature course. At the end of the course we had to do a project or research paper, and I decided to create a mini-graphic “novel” on the anti-Semitism I witnessed growing up in a predominantly Jewish town. This helped me better understand the benefits of telling a story through this medium.

4) Ask the students questions relating to the text that may require them to go back and re-read: who fed the baby to the shark? Why is the first image of someone reading in the dark? When the white man wants to kill one of the captured Africans on page 35, and there is a bubble indicating “$!,” what does that mean?

5) Do a pre-writing or post-writing exercise about a “motive” for Nat Turner. In his confessions, he explains a lot about what happens (and as we learned in Prof Sample’s lectures, this may be exaggerated based on Thomas R. Gray’s own motive for financial gain) but not a lot about why.

6) Have students research the historical period or pre-write about what they know about slavery. I think having the background knowledge of Nat Turner’s confessions is relevant.

7) Introduce or discuss other texts that might be related, such as “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall or “Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin, etc.