The Dark Fantastic, Five Years Later: How do we close the imagination gap?

Werklund International Lecture, featuring Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, PhD

We will reschedule the lecture for a later date. Updated information will be shared publicly when the revised details have been confirmed.

The Dark Fantastic book cover

The Dark Fantastic, Five Years Later: How do we close the imagination gap? 

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas traces the journeys of four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against minoritized peoples in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people all over the world have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. In doing so, they have closed the imagination gap, reading and writing themselves into existence -- and changing the entire world so that the most powerful people in the world have taken note. The implications for schools, societies, and the future could not be more profound.


About the Speaker

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, is Chair of the Joint Program in English and Education and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s Marsal Family School of Education. A former Detroit Public Schools teacher and National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, she serves as co-editor of Research in the Teaching of English. She is the author of The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (NYU Press, 2019), which won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the Children’s Literature Association Book Award, among other accolades. Her most recent books are Harry Potter and the Other: Race, Justice, and Difference in the Wizarding World (University Press of Mississippi, 2022) co-edited with Sarah Park Dahlen, and Restorying Young Adult Literature (NCTE, 2023), co-authored by James Joshua Coleman and Autumn A. Griffin.

Her expertise on race and representation in children’s and young adult literature has been sought after nationally and internationally. She has been interviewed by MSNBC, the BBC, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She is a former reviewer for Kirkus’ children’s book section, and has written book reviews for the Los Angeles Times. She is a past National Book Award for Young People's Literature judge, and served as a board member of the United States Board on Books for Young People from 2020-2022.

In addition to her work on books for young readers, she has published widely on race, discourse, and interaction in classrooms and digital environments. In conjunction with the National Writing Project, Amy Stornaiuolo (Penn GSE), Elyse Eidman-Aadahl (NWP), and Sarah Levine (Stanford), she is a co-principal investigator on a major James S. McDonnell Foundation Teachers as Learners grant, the Digital Discourse Project (DDP), a longitudinal collaborative inquiry into how partnering teacher consultants studied their own discourse practices with data and platforms as they facilitated online discussions during and after the COVID-19 era. She is also conducting empirical, digital, and archival research for her next monograph, The Shadow Book: Reading Slavery, Fugitivity, and Liberation in Children's Books and Media, which will focus on how traumatic historical events such as slavery in the teaching of literature are introduced through children's picturebooks, popular media, and the social Web.

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas photo