Random Thoughts: Change, Primary Sources & Other Stuff

The House Girl. What resources did the author use?

Posted on: March 22, 2014

housegirlTara Conklin’s House Girl is a popular book club book and appropriate for high school students. The historical fiction novel tells the story of Lina, a contemporary New York attorney working on a slavery reparation case. Through her work she discovers connections between art, a client, and a slave. As Lina begins her research she compiles a list of the slaves, making a comparison chart of the harm they received.  Several names caught my eye.

The familiar names were drawn from  Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, an AmericanLukeTowns Memory collection of more than 2000 first-person accounts. These interviews were collected as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930’s. Take a look at Luke Towns, a centenarian, born in Georgia in 1835.

When I read historical fiction I am always curious about the author’s source.  These primary source interviews clearly tie in with the novel. They support the study of slavery,  inquiry, and reading/understanding/comparing informational text

Conklin cites the slave narratives and other collections  in her list of sources.  There are countless primary resources to complement The House Girl and movies such as Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.07.29 AM12 Years a Slave.  For starters,  The Emergence of Advertising in America collection has powerful, thought-provoking flyers from slave auctions. Voice from the Days of Slavery from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center has recorded interviews of former slaves.

Primary sources like these offer engaging learning opportunities for  classrooms. Learn how!

Images: Luke Towns selection from Born Into Slavery: Slave Narratives From the Federal Writers Project and The House Girl, p 75

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