Humanities Moments

Humanities Moments

We’ve all had “humanities moments” — when our lives were made richer, more poignant, and meaningful because of the insights the humanities provide.

Sometimes You Just Need to Keep Reading

Contributed by Mab Segrest, Professor Emerita, Connecticut College
Lesbian Feminist Voice

Description

Growing up in the mid-1960s as a white girl in Tuskegee, Alabama, Mab Segrest attended a segregated private school that her parents had helped found in response to a court order years earlier to integrate public high schools. In the shadows of governor George Wallace’s racist violence, history had “come to [her] front door.” Seeking a better understanding of the U.S. South, she found William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in the local library. Perplexed by the interior monologue of its opening pages, she forged ahead in grappling with the famed Southern writer’s dizzying language. Around page 105, a revelation rewarded her persistence: she had been reading from the point of view of cognitively impaired Benjy, the “idiot.”

Years later, while a graduate student in Duke’s English department, a time during which she eventually came out as a lesbian, she explored the contents of the Intimate Bookshop in the next town over, Chapel Hill. A question in a book called Sappho Was a Right-On Woman transformed her worldview: “What causes heterosexuality?” By shifting the query from homosexuality to heterosexuality, the question was a “revelation” for Segrest.

By continuing to dwell on Faulkner’s novel, Segrest learned the value of perseverance: “Sometimes you just need to keep reading.” In grappling with the queries of a feminist text (“what causes heterosexuality?”), she realized that “how you ask the questions makes a really big difference.” Texts, arguments, and how people struggle with what it means to be human can be “liberatory or revelatory,” whether for a young girl in the midst of an apartheid system or for a lesbian woman in a homophobic society. Together, these humanities moments bookend Segrest’s personal and intellectual formation and her understanding of the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender.

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Title

Sometimes You Just Need to Keep Reading

Description

Growing up in the mid-1960s as a white girl in Tuskegee, Alabama, Mab Segrest attended a segregated private school that her parents had helped found in response to a court order years earlier to integrate public high schools. In the shadows of governor George Wallace’s racist violence, history had “come to [her] front door.” Seeking a better understanding of the U.S. South, she found William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in the local library. Perplexed by the interior monologue of its opening pages, she forged ahead in grappling with the famed Southern writer’s dizzying language. Around page 105, a revelation rewarded her persistence: she had been reading from the point of view of cognitively impaired Benjy, the “idiot.”

Years later, while a graduate student in Duke’s English department, a time during which she eventually came out as a lesbian, she explored the contents of the Intimate Bookshop in the next town over, Chapel Hill. A question in a book called Sappho Was a Right-On Woman transformed her worldview: “What causes heterosexuality?” By shifting the query from homosexuality to heterosexuality, the question was a “revelation” for Segrest.

By continuing to dwell on Faulkner’s novel, Segrest learned the value of perseverance: “Sometimes you just need to keep reading.” In grappling with the queries of a feminist text (“what causes heterosexuality?”), she realized that “how you ask the questions makes a really big difference.” Texts, arguments, and how people struggle with what it means to be human can be “liberatory or revelatory,” whether for a young girl in the midst of an apartheid system or for a lesbian woman in a homophobic society. Together, these humanities moments bookend Segrest’s personal and intellectual formation and her understanding of the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender.

Date

mid-1960s

Contributor

Mab Segrest, Professor Emerita, Connecticut College

Identifier

segrest-sometimes-you-just-need-to-keep-reading

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