“All You Needed Was Godzilla behind Them”: Situating (Racial) Knowledge and Teaching Anna Deavere Smith’s <em>Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992</em>


  • Jake Mattox




Both the text and the learning environment, connecting community sites, enact the formation of knowledge and interpretation whose insights stem from a juxtaposition of experiences, viewpoints, and histories. Students can thus explore key moments in US racial history and relate them importantly to personal stories, taking them out of the abstract or vague world of the history textbook. This is not to be underestimated: it stems from, and often prompts, continued student curiosity and desire to know and research, to fill gaps in their historical knowledge and in the public memory. Twilight: Los Angeles’s intense juxtaposition of the personal with the historical fosters and rewards just this kind of curiosity and diligence; it also allows groups of students with different racial and ethnic backgrounds to explore, discuss, interpret, and learn from others’ interpretations of specific historical moments. As one of my students noted in a survey response, ‘I think [Twilight: Los Angeles] was a good choice because I didn’t learn about any of this in my earlier education. People need to know about the issues raised in the book because they still matter today.’