The Vermont Connection


In 1972, spoken-word artist and poet Gil Scott-Heron published his second novel, controversially titled The Nigger Factory. As the student arm of the Civil Rights Movement started to shift its intellectual concerns from integration to questions of Black Power and self-determination, Scott-Heron’s novel burst onto the literary scene like a stick of dynamite. Literary critics and newspapers didn’t quite know what to make of the novel, which focused on a student government president and a fringe opposition group both vying for control over a student protest at a fictional historically Black college. Raw, direct, and full of rage, the book eventually went out of print and lapsed into obscurity for decades. Nearly forty years after its debut, the book was reintroduced into the literary scene by British publisher Canongate Books, and has sparked new scholarly conversations about Black student protest and the relationship between HBCUs and their stakeholders. Through literary analysis and notes from past experiences of teaching the novel in the classroom, I examine how the social milieu surrounding Factory has both changed and endured, and how this novel can help us to contextualize protests for racial equity happening currently at both HBCUs and PWIs.