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MFA faculty member Laurence Stacey talks literature, race and social identity

By Drew Hulse

This month’s Community Gathering delved into race and social identity as it relates to graphic novels and the public’s perception.

Laurence Stacey gave his presentation, “Panels for Peace: Racial Discourse in Comics and Graphic Novels” Wednesday in the Hill Freeman Library Community Room.

Comics and graphic novels are rife with potent political images, Stacey said, that mold the public’s perceptions of race and social identity. “Panels for Peace” posed examples of works that shape the narrative both positively and negatively.

Cartoonists of color were largely absent from the field until the 1940s, and problematic perceptions of color took root in their absence. When these cartoonists finally entered the mainstream media, they challenged the stereotypes cast for them. The result, Stacey said, was a complex narrative of identity manifested in graphic literature during the civil rights movement and counterculture of the 1960s.

Through cartoonists, the discourse broadened. Amid the chaos of human struggle, authors published titles like “Persepolis,” “Paper Girls,” “Irmina” and “Black Panther.” Comics and graphic novels, Stacey said, condensed abstract ideas, allowing people across the globe to challenge the dominant narrative and see each other as equals.

“Most of my students come back later and say, ‘You know, professor Stacey, I see differently now. Whether I agree with all your points or not, that’s irrelevant. But I’m more attentive to what I am seeing. I think more about the contexts that are behind the narratives that I am seeing,’” Stacey said.

Stacey is a writer, editor and core faculty member of Reinhardt University’s Etowah Valley MFA in Creative Writing. Currently, he is earning his PhD in International Conflict Management from Kennesaw State University. His presentation used comics and graphic novels as platforms to discuss race relations, social identity and peace studies with the Reinhardt community.

“Any time that I can be of service to the community here—especially if it’s service that’s related to my background and my specialty of study—I’m always willing to do that,” said Stacey. “Whenever I’m here, it’s very much like being at home, like this is my home base. I love engaging with the students because part of the University’s core is this idea of the liberal arts being very important.”

Reinhardt University’s Community Gathering series is an opportunity for all university students, faculty and staff to come together and enjoy educational presentations and engage in dialogue. The series will continue next month with Namalie Jayasinghe on March 14 at 1 p.m. in the Hill Freeman Library Community Room. The series is also open to the public.

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Laurence Stacy led the Community Gathering Series Feb. 21. Photo by Jeff Reed

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