America in Colour

June 24, 2014 - Stephanie Boxall

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Color Purple
After years of promising myself I would read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, I finally got round to it this summer. The classic novel set against the backdrop of the American Civil War is one of the set texts on America in Colour, a literature course presented by Dr Allan Phillipson at the American Museum.

The title of the course echoes the theme of this year’s Kaffe Fassett exhibition, but also goes much deeper to explore attitudes to race in American film and literature, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to Evan Hunter’s The Blackboard Jungle and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Halfway through the ten-week course we have covered the experience of African American vaudeville stars on and off Broadway, the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance and racial tensions in the Deep South, illustrated by the powerful 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, the police detective who gets involved in a Mississippi murder case, and Rod Steiger as the racist police chief.

Now, having finished our study of The Red Badge of Courage (it was worth the wait), we are all immersed in the murky world of LA crime portrayed in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, and we still have the pleasures of The Blackboard Jungle, The Color Purple and others to come.The Red Badge of Courage

It feels like a whistle stop tour, as we’re covering a lot of material in a short time. But I like the fast pace, and it’s lovely both to discover new writers and also to be encouraged to take a fresh look at films and books one already knows and loves.

This is the first course I’ve attended at the Museum and I wish I had known about some of the previous ones, such as the Gangsters and Gunslingers: History, Fiction and Film course that Dr Phillipson, who also teaches at the WEA, taught here last year. I have the feeling I’ll be signing up for some more. In the meantime, it’s back to Devil in a Blue Dress.

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