The Penn Museum invites you to unlock the human experience through literature by reading “between the lines.” Join us for our twist on the classic book club, featuring carefully curated books with cultural connections, moderated by Penn Museum curators and special guests. A new book will be featured each month, from June through December.
Each month, Between the Lines participants will meet three times through interactive video conferencing: a kickoff, a check-in, and a concluding meeting at the end of the book. Readers are encouraged to continue the conversation and chat beyond these virtual meetings in the private Between the Lines Facebook Group. The moderator will share additional connections to the collection, supplemental readings and videos, and guiding questions through the virtual meetings and Facebook group.
Between the Lines will begin by considering three books in connection with the Museum’s Africa Galleries
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, moderated by Dwaune Latimer, Friendly Keeper of Collections, African Section.
- Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston, moderated by Vanicléia Silva Santos, Ph.D., Associate Curator, African Section.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, moderated by Deborah Thomas, Ph.D., R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology and curator of Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston.
$5 Per Book
Includes 3 meetings.Register
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple for the first time with what it means to be black. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
Moderated by Dwaune Latimer
Dwaune Latimer is the Jean Friendly Keeper of Collections in the Museum’s African Section. Her research interests include museum anthropology, material culture studies, representation, colonialism, world’s fairs, popular culture, beadwork, and weaving.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”
by Zora Neale Hurston
In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation's history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage 50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.
In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War. Barracoon brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it.
Moderated by Dr. Deborah Thomas
R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology Deborah Thomas, Ph.D., is interested in the afterlives of imperialism, in the forms of community, subjectivity, and expectation that are produced by violence, and in how these are expressed and mapped. Her current projects probe these issues in very different ways: one, for example, looks at the massive investment by the Chinese state and Chinese companies into infrastructures and consumer markets throughout the Caribbean in order to examine how the intensified Chinese presence displaces earlier colonial and imperial Western hemispheric relations, and how people are responding to these processes.
Thomas is also a filmmaker (Bad Friday and Four Days in May) and co-curated the Museum’s special exhibition Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston. She recently began work on a new film project on the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church in Jamaica. Having been a professional dancer before becoming an anthropologist, Thomas has long been committed a fusion of creative practice and scholarly research. In 2018, she launched the Center for Experimental Ethnography, a cross-school and interdisciplinary Center at Penn that supports creative research production among students and faculty.
by Yaa Gyasi
Ghana, 18th century: two half-sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
Moderated by Dr. Vanicléia Silva Santos
Vanicléia Silva Santos, who received her Ph.D. in Social History from the University of São Paulo in 2008, currently serves as the Associate Curator of the Africa Section. She is on leave from her position as Associate Professor in the History Department at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Santos’ research focuses on African history, the history of African diasporas, material culture, and Atlantic history. She has been a visiting professor at universities in South America and the United States, and her publications include more than30 scholarly articles and eight edited volumes. She began studying African Art as researcher at the Afro-Brasil Museum in São Paulo; her interest in African material culture crystallized in her dissertation research and matured with her research on African ivories. She is currently working on a number of book projects on African history and art.