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Prof. Shannon Brennan presents Arts and Humanities Colloquium Thursday: ‘The Problem with Innocence: Dislocating Childhood in Frances E.W. Harper’s Iola Leroy’

  • Shannon Brennan
    Shannon Brennan


Mimi Yang

February 21, 2018

English professor Shannon Brennan will discuss Frances E.W. Harper’s 1892 novel Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, in an Arts and Humanities Colloquium at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22 in the A. W. Clausen Center for World Business room 107.

The talk, titled “The Problem with Innocence: Dislocating Childhood in Frances E.W. Harper’s Iola Leroy,” will be held at 4:15 p.m. in the A. W. Clausen Center room 107. The event is part of the Spring 2018 Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series sponsored by the Division of the Arts and Humanities.

Talk abstract:

Iola Leroy is one of the earliest novels published by a Black woman in America. Harper’s novel was marketed to “the thousands of colored Sunday-schools of the South,” yet its message of racial uplift is shot through with stories of sexual and racial violence in the Jim Crow era. What does such an explicit text mean to say to young people of color? What can it be saying about childhood itself? Investigating Iola Leroy’s status as a children’s novel, this talk discusses Harper’s critical investment in challenging dominant, racialized and sexualized conceptions of childhood. On the cusp of what would become known as the “Century of the Child,” Harper refuses the value and accessibility of childhood innocence, positing instead the fact and value of experience as the basis of social change. In doing so, she advances a radical vision of historical, developmental, and national time. If politics bear the mark of our temporal investments — be they nostalgic, optimistic, utopian, or futurist — then Harper’s radical temporal vision encourages her young readers to imagine a route to the future that may be made to look different from the present.

Brennan AH colloquium poster