Discussion Guide for Book Clubs
- Why do you think Ann Walling titled the book Sunday Dinner?
- What is “right order” as defined by the author, and how did it shape people’s behavior in the Southern society of her childhood?
- How did her family, knowingly or unwittingly, help to reinforce the injustices and strict hierarchies of the era?
- When Walling refers to the “rites” of Sunday dinner, what is she talking about? How did those rites reinforce the social conventions she was taught to obey?
- Did your family practice certain rituals or traditions that remind you of what Walling describes in her memoir?
- What role have Southern churches played in perpetuating racism, sexism, and classism in the South? What role have they played in helping to promote tolerance?
- What do you think prompted the moral awakening that Walling describes in this book? Why do you think she became aware of the injustices in society while others in her family did not?
- How do we as individuals, and as a society, decide which traditions are valuable and worth keeping, and which are harmful and should be left behind?
- Why is it so difficult for people to overcome the values they learn as children, even when those beliefs are wrong and unjust?
- If the Black women who worked for Walling’s family as household servants could read her book, what do you think they might say about it?
- How can today’s society begin to remedy the injustices and indignities suffered by Black Americans? To what degree to you feel that their family stories, recipes, and points of view have been suppressed, or lost to history?
- What is the value of writing a personal memoir, or of digging into family histories? Are you interested in your own family’s past? Do you see value in interviewing older family members, and would you consider doing so now that you’ve read Walling’s memoir?
- Have you experienced the strange phenomenon of simultaneously loving your family and feeling embarrassed or sad about their beliefs or actions? How do you deal with those conflicting emotions?
- Do you take at face value Walling’s family’s belief about race relations in that era, and about their relationships with their Black servants? Do you believe the Black women who worked for her family could be honest about their feelings at the time?
- Do you see any parallels between Walling’s story and the disillusionment of Scout in the recent Harper Lee release, Go Set a Watchman?
- How would you describe the state of race relations in America? How does racism manifest itself in our society today?
- What is your view of the Confederate flag? Do you feel it is a symbol of culture or or bigotry? Since proponents of the Confederate flag argue to keep the flag based on tradition, how can we tell if a tradition is harmful? What can those who still cling to the Confederacy learn from reading this book?
- What other forms of discrimination appear in Walling’s story?
- What more do you think our society could be doing to ensure racial equality?
- Do you think that racism can influence our thoughts and actions without our being fully aware of it? How can we as individuals take an honest look at our own racist ways of thinking? Is it important to do so?
Suggested supplemental reading:
I found a number of books and articles incredibly valuable in writing the book and in educating myself about racism and inequality in our society, then and now. Writing this memoir is not the end of my journey toward (what I hope is) a deeper understanding of racism in America; if anything, it is only the beginning.
Of course, I can only know the world through my own experience. That’s why I think it’s so important to try to see through the eyes of others, and especially, through the eyes of people who experience racism in a more direct and painful way than I ever will.
Here are a few of my favorite books and articles on history and religion, race and family; these have informed my journey and inform it still. —ABW
There Goes my Everything, by Jason Sokol
Walking With the Wind, by John Lewis
The Children, by David Halberstam
“Letter on the Civil Rights Movement,” by Leon Kass
“American Racism in the ‘White Frame,'” by George Yancy and Joe Feagin, in the NYTimes
“The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
“The Voting Rights Act at 50,” by the NYTimes editorial board
A Dream Undone (Inside the 50 year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act), by Jim Rutenberg, NYTimes Magazine
“The Continuing Reality of Segregated Schools,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, in the NYTimes
“Go Set a Watchman Shatters the Myths of the White South” by Clay Risen
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man,” by Henry Louis Jr. Gates
“People arrive at an understanding of themselves and the world through narratives—narratives purveyed by schoolteachers, newscasters, ‘authorities,’ and all the other authors of our common sense. Counternarratives are, in turn, the means by which groups contest that dominant reality and the fretwork of assumptions that supports it.“
To request Ann Walling to speak to your book club (in person or via Skype), contact Emily Labes at Media Connect: