Talking Race and Narrative with Undergraduate Students in the USA

  • Sue J. Kim
Part of the Teaching the New English book series (TENEEN)


This chapter starts from the observation that students often have difficult talking critically about race and narrative—particularly fictional narratives—because they seem so familiar and, therefore, have become naturalized. Students often take race and narrative as givens, rather than multifaceted constructions and ongoing processes arising from long, complex histories. I reflect on my experiences using two short stories to teach narrative theory and racialization to undergraduate students: Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’ (The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Boston: Wadsworth, 1983) and Ted Chiang’s science fiction ‘Story of Your Life’ (2002). While students are more willing to believe that race is a central structuring element in Morrison’s famous story featuring protagonists of unspecific race, they are more ambivalent about Chiang’s story because it does not overtly deal with race and/or ethnicity as we generally understand it. But through discussions of narratological concepts, such as focalization, order and anachrony, Chiang’s ‘Story’ can become a way to talk about the logics and processes of racial formation, as theorized by Michael Omi, Howard Winant and others. In other words, ‘Story of Your Life’ defamiliarizes some key elements of narrative and racialization in ways that can enable students—sometimes—to recognize how they are inextricably intertwined.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sue J. Kim
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Massachusetts LowellLowellUSA

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