Magical Realism and History in Beloved | Newberry

Magical Realism and History in Beloved

Friday, October 26, 2018

9:30 am to 12:30 pm

The Newberry

Dr. Kara Johnson, The Newberry
Full. Waitlist only.
Programs for Teachers
Newberry Teachers' Consortium

According to most critical discussions of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved (1987), this influential novel sits comfortably under the umbrella of the magical realist genre. The qualities of this genre, defined loosely as the incorporation of otherworldly events in an otherwise realistic setting, are important features of this novel, which tells the story of Sethe, who becomes haunted-and eventually overpowered by the spirit of her two-year-old daughter, whom she killed. However, Morrison’s novel was inspired by a newspaper article Morrison stumbled upon while editing a collection of historical and cultural documents, The Black Book (1974). This article, “A Visit to the Slave Mother who Killed Her Child” (1856), came from the newspaper American Baptist, and told of Margaret Garner, a slave who fled Kentucky for Ohio, a free state. Amid the extraordinary events of Sethe’s spiritual hauntings, lie important historical observations about the ever-present trauma of American enslavement. And, one could argue, the magical realist genre could be utilized to pronounce even further and lay bare the horrifying historical realities of slavery, as well as their haunting echoes in post-Emancipation America. This seminar examines the generic tensions between magical realism and America’s well-documented historical narratives of enslavement, and how this tension works together to create Morrison’s masterpiece. We will discuss important literary and historical contexts that contributed to Morrison’s work, and how broad generic categories can oftentimes obscure the book’s bold engagement with literary experimentation and “pushing the boundaries” of conventional novelistic narratives. The seminar will also present suggestions on how to demystify this rather difficult text for students, and with its participants explore lesson planning ideas that incorporate historical documents, film, and other visual media representations of Beloved and American slavery.

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Teachers’ Consortium members may register for this seminar through their designated membership contact as space permits. Non-member educators may register for this seminar by purchasing an individual membership at the time of registration. Registration for all NTC seminars opens Friday, September 7, 2018. For more information about NTC membership, please contact Charlotte Ross, Teacher Programs Manager, at

The seminar will be followed by a catered lunch. Registrants should RSVP for lunch to assist Teacher Programs staff in reducing waste.

A link to the assigned pre-readings for this seminar will be distributed to participants via email.

If you believe you are registered for this seminar but have not received an email confirmation or reminder, please contact Teacher Programs staff.