The Importance of Stories in Greg Anderson Elysée’s “Is’Nana The Were Spider”

Matthew Teutsch
5 min readSep 15, 2022

Every semester, I include a few texts on my syllabus that I have never read, so I get to encounter the texts for the first time alongside my students. For my “Monsters, Race, and Comics” class, someone (I apologize but I forgot who) suggested that check out Greg Anderson Elysée’s Is’Nana The Were-Spider. I read a description of the series and added it to my syllabus. IsNana has captivated me for a few reasons, but perhaps the most important reason is the way that the narrative comments specifically on the act of storytelling.

In one respect, Is’Nana is, as Julian Chambliss talked about with my class one session, an act of recovery and reclamation. When I use the term “recovery” here, I do not mean, completely, that Anansi tales have been lost and Elysée resurrects them for the masses. No, what Chambliss gets at is that Is’Nana focuses on Anansi and other West African Gods, bringing them to the forefront instead of say Norse Gods such as Thor or Loki or other Western cosmologies. In this manner, Elysée recovers these stories, these oral traditions, for a new audience. Elysée highlights, in Is’Nana the ways that Anasi’s tales moved and morphed through the Middle Passage and enslavement. There are references to Brer Rabbit, La Diablesse, and more. He, like Toni Morrison and others before him, reclaims these stories from the history of white writers such as Joel Chandler Harris.

Harris’ Uncle Remus stories relate African American folktales with characters such as Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox, each of which is a descendent, in part from West African and Akan cosmology. Harris mediates these stories, which he heard from formerly enslaved individuals, through his own perceptions and whiteness, and as a result, they reinforce stereotypes. Alice Walker commented, “As far as I’m concerned, [Harris] stole a good part of my heritage. . . . By making me feel ashamed of it. In creating Uncle Remus, he placed an effective barrier between me and the stories that meant so much to me, the stories that meant so much to all the children, the stories they would have heard from their own people and not from Walt Disney.”

Walker’s comments point to the rupturing of communal ties during the Middle Passage and enslavement through her use of the “stole” in…

Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.