By Devonte Myles
Twenty-five high school seniors from University High School Academy attended a panel discussion focused on Octavia Butler’s novel "Kindred" at Lawrence Technological University. The "Kindred" panel is one of the public presentations of the Humanity + Technology Lecture Series, which is funded by the Michigan Humanities Council and supported by LTU’s Marburger STEM Center.
Under the leadership of English educator Ms. Lorri Lewis, these advanced placement literature students were able to listen to three different perspectives as they explored the novel together. “This novel enables our students to truly admire the essence of power in a novel about a topic that we know or think we know,” Lewis explains. “Incorporating time travel to this novel aims to put the students as close to Dana’s experience as possible.”
The panel discussion was moderated by Paul Jaussen, associate professor in the Department of Humanities, Social sciences, and Communications at Lawrence Tech. Leading the conversation was Lisa Ze Winter, associate professor at Wayne State University, Kim Hunter, a Kresge Arts Award winner and Yolanda Jack, youth program coordinator at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in downtown Detroit. Butler’s novel sparked much conversation amongst the panelists and the audience, laying the groundwork for emphasis on key points about the novel. Kindred raised a variety of questions that included gender, race, inclusion and power. “It’s interesting to see how the world we live in today impacts our perspective,” says Jack. “To have at least some understanding of the historical context is also helpful for unpacking this powerful novel.”
“It was quite interesting to see the students constantly engage in a topic that could become sensitive at any given moment,” recalls Devonte Myles, senior intern with the Marburger STEM Center. “It reminds me of seminars in courses that I’ve taken over the years in which topics like this can be sensibly explored.” The students in attendance did not shy away from any of their ideas that may have seemed differential from anyone else and was composed of a strong perspective, and later backed by the text itself.
Dr. Collins, executive director of the Marburger STEM Center along with Myles, had the privilege to read and evaluate the best essays from Lewis’ AP literature course and ultimately selected the top five for an opportunity to participate in a summer camp experience at Lawrence Technological University in the summer of 2020. The student essays explored how Butler’s manipulation of time contributes to the overall effectiveness of the literary work. “These students’ ability to analyze Butler’s novel as a whole and give concrete evidence from the text speaks to not only their intelligence, but the efficient teaching of Lewis at University High School,” says Myles.