Goodreads: Nat Turner
Baker combines his wordless graphic novel with excerpts from Nat Turner’s confessions to telll story of the 1831 slave uprising in Southampton County, Virginia.
Kyle Baker sheds light on an overlooked portion of American history, the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nate Turner, which resulted in the deaths of dozens as a group of slaves and free Black individuals went from plantation to plantation killing the white inhabitants. Turner’s legacy has been controversial, with some viewing him as a hero and others condemning his violent methods. His impact, however, was immediate, as his actions caused swift revenge upon the black community but also inspired Black Americans, who admired his spirit of resistance. Baker’s graphic novel captures the intensity and the mystery of this somewhat forgotten historical figure.
Baker’s contribution to the novel is wordless, suggesting that the violence experienced by slaves in America is, in fact, beyond words. The beatings, the separations, the fear must all be experienced visually, and it almost feels sometimes as if you the viewer must be complicit, as you stand by in deafening silence, watching brutality occur. Baker pairs the images with excerpts from Turner’s confessions. The stark account of his past and the uprising contrasts sharply with the panels, again suggesting that some things really cannot be spoken of.
Nat Turner is a powerful book, one that will likely make readers feel uncomfortable as they confront the violence of slavery. Baker provides some end content that reinforces the story, including an image of the crowded conditions in slave ships, further reading, and discussion questions for classes. The material reminds readers that this is all very real, something they must engage with.