One of the great thrills of my life is being able to interview Mississippi high school seniors who have applied to Duke University. The conversations are usually thoughtful and reflective, but there is always one question that I like to ask to get the student’s thoughts flowing. That question is:
“If you could bring back three people from the dead to have a conversation with, who would they be and why?”
Some of the people who have been brought back from the dead are Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Louisa May Alcott, Cleopatra, Ernest Hemingway, and Gandhi; just to name a few.
After the student tells me who and why, I always ask a follow up question. “In your conversation with Dead Person A, he or she asks you for a book recommendation. What book would you recommend that person read?” This is where the conversation gets fun! From recommendations like, Cleopatra reading Kelly Oxford’s Everything’s Perfect When You are a Liar, to Martin Luther King, Jr. reading Richard Wright’s Black Boy. I love this question, but I’ve never answered it myself. So, I am going to indulge all you fine folks with my answers.
The first person I would bring back from the dead would be the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul. This is where I must admit that I am a theological and biblical nerd. Not a biblical nerd in “the bible is the literal truth of God written by the Holy Spirit in men who were awesome and unflawed” kind of nerd, but the kind of nerd that looks at theology and the Bible through a critical (maybe too much sometimes) and suspicious lens. I would love to bring Paul back because I have a huge problem with him. I really don’t like him, and I think some of his writings (or writings attributed to him) are sexist, anti-body, anti-agency, crap. But on the reverse side, some of his letters are beautiful, poetic, and full of grace. There is a paradox in his writing, and in his life. As far as what book I would want him to read? Well, I’m gonna be cliché and a cheater here, but I’d love to sit down and get him to read the book of Romans, particularly Romans 1 and 2. Why? Well, in Romans 1, Paul condemns everyone to hell. Like literally, everyone. It has been a scripture that people have used to oppress and deny people their basic human rights (I’m thinking LGBTQ people here…) and yet he starts Romans 2 with this:
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
It is the paradox. He judges a long list of people, condemns them to hell, and then says, “DON’T JUDGE!” I just think it would be interesting to talk about.
My second person I’d bring back from the dead is Jane Austen. Unlike Paul formerly known as Saul, I freaking love Jane Austen. I never read her until I was in a class at Duke where my favorite teacher ever, Dr. Amy Laura Hall, made us read her work. I love Jane Austen because I think she was a badass feminist before feminism was a thing. Her biting comedic social commentary always gets me going. I would love to talk with her about her books, but if she asked me for a book recommendation, I would have to recommend Beloved by Toni Morrison. Beloved is a book that is hard to read because it delves deeply into the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and slavery. It slaps you in the face and makes you say, “damn.” Jane Austen wrote books critiquing the gentry of her time; Toni Morrison wrote Beloved which depicted the horrors of slavery and the treatment and commodification of black bodies. The conversation Jane Austen and I would have would be interesting, deep, and hopefully life-changing.
The last person I would bring back from the dead would be Whitney Houston. Why? Well, I’m a big fan, and even though she has been dead less than 5 years, I will always love her. I would love to talk to her about her life, how she felt when she sang, why she stayed with Bobby Brown, and things like that. As far as a book recommendation: this is the hardest for me to answer. But as I think about it, I would recommend Lamb by Christopher Moore. This is so random, I know. If you don’t know Lamb, let’s just say, it is a satirical look at the childhood of Jesus through the eyes of his best friend, Biff. It is hilarious, yet deeply moving. Whitney had a glamorous life, but it was a life full of addiction and pain. I would recommend Lamb because it is irreverent, and it makes you think while you laugh your ass off at the hilarity of it all. Whitney deserves to laugh her ass off.
So, with that; I am done. But I do have a question for you!
Who would YOU bring back from the dead, and what books would you recommend to them?
Written by Justin