How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

by Jerald Walker

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How does James Alan McPherson influence Walker's life in "Dragon Slayers"?

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In his essay "Dragon Slayers," Walker explains that through his critique of Walker's writing and through conversations and projects, McPherson helped Walker understand that he needed to move beyond stereotypes to reality both for the Black community and for himself.

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In Jerald Walker's essay "Dragon Slayers," Walker describes a life-changing encounter with writer James Alan McPherson. Walker once took a seminar with McPherson, and McPherson's comments on Walker's writing made a major impact.

During the seminar, McPherson actually used Walker's paper as an example of how not to write, and he claimed that the paper's author was selling out in terms of race, saying what people expected him to say "for personal gain." Walker was upset and angry, and he met with McPherson in person, trying to defend himself and his perspective.

After Walker calmed down and apologized for his outburst, he and McPherson carried on a conversation about their origins. Walker was still feeling quite dejected about McPherson's criticism, however, as he got up to leave, but McPherson then offered him an important piece of advice. Walker should use stereotypes to his advantage. He can start with them, but then he must show his readers what is behind the stereotype, what is real. Walker asked what is real, and McPherson responded with one word: "You."

McPherson agreed to supervise a project about Black culture for Walker, and over the next four years, Walker realized that he was actually stereotyping himself by falling into the victim mentality. He decided to focus on the resilience of Black people in all walks of life. McPherson later guided Walker's dissertation.

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