History lessons: ‘12 Years a Slave’ book and film stir a national conversation

tags: slavery, 12 Years a Slave




Sometimes pop culture can be the best history teacher. When “Malcolm X” hit theaters in 1992, schools arranged field trips to see the Spike Lee Joint. The biopic exposed a generation of youth to a black radical leader who is still marginalized in school textbooks. It was a similar story with “Roots.” The 1977 TV miniseries based on Alex Haley’s bestseller shook an earlier generation with its vivid portrayal of slavery. And now “12 Years a Slave,” based on the real-life story of Solomon Northup, is rekindling a national conversation about America’s peculiar institution — and an interest in Northup’s 1853 slave narrative.

Steve McQueen’s film, which has stirred up audiences with its unflinching look at the life of a free African American who is sold into slavery, has boosted sales of Northup’s narrative in Chicago-area bookstores. McQueen has called the narrative, which is (at posting time) No. 88 on Amazon’s best sellers list, “the Anne Frank book of America.” From Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park to The Book Table in Oak Park, bookstore managers are fielding calls about “12 Years a Slave.” And last weekend, both the movie tie-in and the previous edition sold out at The Book Table after the film opened at a nearby theater, co-owner Jason Smith said....



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