Ten years ago, I participated in an NEH Summer Institute at Grambling State University on teaching the Western classics at HBCUs. There, I read, for the first time I might add, Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Christine De Pazan, and others. During the institute, I learned about the connections between African American authors and some of the classics, specifically from Patrice Rankine, author of Ulysses in Black. While I have constantly thought the way I would construct a course that explores those connections, I want to focus on the ways that some recent authors I have taught use references to Dante to illuminate their texts. (I will post a preliminary syllabus on how I would connect the classics and African American texts at some point in the future.)
The day after the 2017 Boston Marathon, the marathon’s sponsor, Adidas, sent an email to participants who completed the race. The subject line read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon.” On the surface, nothing appears wrong with this line; however, given the events at the marathon on April 15, 2013, when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated two homemade bombs close to the finish line killing 3 people and injuring 264, the choice of the word “survived” carries heavy connotations. Rather than using “survived,” another word such as “conquered” or “endured” or “completed” would work better. This marketing faux pas led me to start thinking about discussions I have had with students recently in class about language and the way it shapes the way(s) we react to the world around us.
On Tuesday, I wrote about the ways that The Blood Brothers’ “The Salesman, Denver Max” musically fits the tone—the ebbs and flows—of Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I didn’t expect to add another blog post on this story, but after teaching it, I recalled how much the story warrants multiple examinations. With that in mind, I want to write about one of the most enigmatic aspects of the story, the numbers on the side of Arnold Friend’s gold jalopy.