Linda Chavers’ knowledge of William Faulkner is encyclopedic. The lecturer in African and African American Studies, who first read the Nobel Prize-winning novelist when she was 19, owns four different editions of “Absalom, Absalom!” and can recite huge chunks of the narrative from memory. If you want to check, she can even point you to the correct page.
“I’m Faulkner all day, every day — maybe not the man, but the works,” said Chavers, who paired the white Southern writer’s work with that of African-American writer-producer Shonda Rhimes for her course “Faulkner, Interracialism and Popular Television.”
“Whenever I read something and it resonates, it stays with me the rest of my life,” Chavers added. “Absalom, Absalom!” is “a difficult novel to read, but for a really good reason. I think it helps students with their worldview, and develops an interdisciplinary type of mind.”
For the TV part of the class, Chavers turned to Rhimes, whose hit show “Scandal” was her go-to binge watch her last year of graduate school at Harvard — and more than a guilty pleasure.
“There was so much Faulkner in it,” she said. “I felt there was a lot of crossover between what I was reading and what I was watching … and I wanted to bring that into my work as a scholar.”
After completing her dissertation, “Violent Disruptions: William Faulkner and Richard Wright’s Racial Imaginations,” she created her first literature-meets-TV course in 2016 while teaching at Temple University.
Chavers opened a recent session of her Harvard course with a March 2017 “Scandal” episode titled “Extinction.” With her students seated around a conference room at the Hutchins Center, she paused before hitting the play button. Treat the episode “as a visual text,” she told them.