Hurston on the Horizon – NEH institute

The NEH Hurston scholars 2021

UPDATE: I published an op-ed with Visible Magazine about Hurston’s somewhat controversial take on Brown v. Board of Education. You can find the article here: https://visiblemagazine.com/zora-neale-hurston-was-prescient-on-race/

Last summer, I was one of 25 scholars chosen to participate in a summer institute on the great author and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston. The National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute entitled Hurston on the Horizon: Past, Present, and Future was directed by Ayesha Hardison and Maryemma Graham and is affiliated with the University of Kansas Project on the History of Black Writing. KU, by the way, is where Hurston biographer Robert Emery Hemenway’s archives are housed as he was a chancellor there, and we got to access those archives along with other exciting material. We were also fortunate to have at our Zoom-ing fingertips access to some of the greatest Hurston scholars as institute faculty and guest speakers, including the aforementioned directors, Kevin Quashie, Deborah McDowell, Glenda Carpio, Carla Kaplan, Giselle Anatol, and more.

My interest in participating in the Institute comes from being a big fan of Hurston’s novels, but also having the chance to devote time to reading everything else she has written. I remain especially interested in the way she writes about navigating institutional spaces as a woman of color, and what’s behind that characteristic grit that we often read about in her essays such as “How It Feels to be Colored Me.” I was able to share some of her writings as well as video and audio from our institute and some great Library of Congress materials from Hurston’s ethnographic work with my students this past semester for my Women Writers course, and hope to be able to do so again this upcoming semester in my American Literature course. (You can find more about my teaching here.)

Hurston webinars

Last month, as part of the institute, I also moderated the third of three follow-up webinars. The first was with the great Hurston biographer Valerie Boyd, and the second was with novelist Tayari Jones. You can find my live-tweet coverage of the Boyd discussion here. I moderated the third talk, with philosopher Lindsay Stewart. Our talk on her book, The Politics of Black Joy: Zora Neale Hurston and Neo-Abolitionism, is below. Information on all three webinars can be found here: https://hurston.ku.edu/news/webinars

There’s more to come with Hurston! Among other things, I will be participating in a mini-conference with other fellow NEH institute scholars later this month. My presentation, “Hurston on the Limits of Knowledge and Representation,” will discuss some of her essays, including a few recently published for the first time this month. We hope to be able to do an in-person reunion and meetup sometime next year at ZoraFest.

You can find out more about the institute here: https://hurston.ku.edu/

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