NEH Summer Scholars will spend three weeks learning about Zora Neale Hurston through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous virtual formats.. An overview and a tentative daily schedule can be found below.
Week 1: Hurston’s Canon
In Week 1 NEH Summer Scholars will examine Hurston’s most critically engaged works as well as recurring topics and new trends in their scholarly study and teaching. They will define and discuss Hurston’s canon, including her seminal novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and short stories “Spunk” and “Sweat.” Through this reassessment of Hurston, they will consider how the popularity of these works have evolved as her literary status transitions from tensions with her contemporary and vehement critic, Richard Wright, to her current prestige as a literary foremother to today’s Black women writers. NEH Summer Scholars will concentrate on Hurston’s initial 1970s recovery by Robert Hemenway and Alice Walker, her 1990s reemergence through the short story collections of Henry Louis Gates and Cheryl Wall, and twenty-first century renaissance via her biography by Valerie Boyd (Webinar Writer). They will read foundational scholarship, including work by Trudier Harris, to situate Hurston in her Harlem Renaissance cultural context. Before being introduced to Hurston this week, NEH Summer Scholars will also give presentations on their research interests to assist them in forming groups for their collaborative projects, which they will present during a mini conference in the Institute’s final week.
From Harris’s introduction, NEH Summer Scholars will gain an overarching sense of Hurston’s life, times, influences, and her canonical works’ enduring relevance. As scholars who have written about Hurston and the South—and faculty committed to pedagogy and teaching— N.Y. Nathiri will provide NEH Summer Scholars with a deeper understanding of Hurston’s literal and literary place, i.e., her hometown of Eatonville, FL and recognition as a writer lauding the inventiveness of African Americans. Additionally, NEH Summer Scholars will have an opportunity to take up Hurston’s classic texts anew with Julian Chambliss—a history professor and digital humanities scholar—who will situate them within interdisciplinary frameworks and share available digital resources on Hurston. They will also take part in a digital humanities teaching workshop, led by Sylvia Fernández and GRA Jade Harrison, project coordinator for HBW’s Black Book Interactive Project. Another highlight of Week 1: NEH Summer Scholars will attend a panel,” The Living Legacies,” open to the public, to discuss Hurston recovery projects and ways in which Hurston continues to speak to audiences outside of the academy in the South and beyond. Eatonville preservationist Nathiri, Kansas City archivist Carmaletta Williams, literary scholar John Lowe, and HBW Director Graham will model the applied humanities.
Week 2: The “Other” Hurston
In Week 2 NEH Summer Scholars take a different approach on Hurston’s career through an investigation of her neglected texts, namely her folklore and stage productions. While literary criticism has privileged Hurston’s fiction published during the Harlem Renaissance when writers and critics rediscovered her in the 1970s, a second wave of recovery scholarship examines her cultural production within the fields of anthropology, journalism, and theatre studies. In fact, early Hurston studies perpetuated several interdependent hierarchies that pigeonholed her to one period, genre, location, or set of themes that have been challenged with Hurston’s evolving renaissance: the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s versus the Works Project Administration (WPA) fieldwork of the 1930s; the Black characters of Their Eyes Were Watching God versus the white characters of Seraph on the Suwannee; her fiction versus her news reporting for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1953; and her preoccupation with Florida in Mules and Men versus her focus on Jamaica and Haiti in the folklore collection Tell My Horse. Further, Hurston’s multiple forays into theatre are reduced to her dustup with contemporary Langston Hughes over their collaboration Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life (1930), which led to a halt in the play’s production and a severing of their relationship, although two of Hurston’s three literary contest awards in 1925—her first—are for the plays Color Struck and Spears. Thus, this week NEH Summer Scholars will engage Hurston’s range of production in order to expand their understanding of her entire body of work as well as public debates about African American literature, race, and culture during the Depression and well into the 1950s.
In the second week, NEH Summer Scholars will explore Hurston’s commitment to folklore, regionalism, performance, and documentation, with faculty directing their attention to the aforementioned less-familiar texts. This shift will provide NEH Summer Scholars a more comprehensive knowledge of Hurston’s social and cultural investments, bold career pursuits, and breadth of writing productivity. Week’s 2 Deborah G. Plant will revisit Hurston’s ethnography Barracoon and help NEH Summer Scholars recognize Hurston as a social scientist who has numerous rewards for the fields of literature, history, and anthropology. In a comparable vein, Williams, a journalist and communications scholar, will spotlight the importance of Hurston’s coverage of Ruby McCollum’s trial. The week, during which NEH Summer Scholars will discuss plays, novels, folklore, audio and film footage, and newspaper reportage, will position Hurston as an early champion of Black studies, historic preservation and archival studies, and the applied humanities. The public screening of archived 16 mm film footage, accompanied by a talkback with Plant, Carla Kaplan, and Barnes, will allow NEH Summer Scholars to explore and illuminate Hurston’s commitment to preserving Black communities and their cultural traditions through the technologies available to her. The highlight of Week 2 is a staged reading of Hurston’s short plays Woofing and Poker!, directed by Nicole Hodges Persley (Artistic Director of KC Melting Pot Theater, Kansas City’s premier African American theater company).
Week 3: New Hurston Studies
In this final week, NEH Summer Scholars will reflect upon Hurston’s assertions for the future of African American literary and cultural studies by exploring the ways her fiction, folklore, essays, journalism, letters, ethnography, and anthropological studies interject within the aesthetic debates of her time and prefigure those of today. Led by Kevin Quashie, NEH Summer Scholars will map Hurston’s vision for the tradition’s future and pinpoint how she speaks to current disciplinary discussions about interpretation and critique. First, Lamonda Horton-Stallings will help make Quashie’s critical framework concrete for NEH Summer Scholars by connecting themes central to Hurston, specifically African American folk expressions and practices, to their repetition and revision in the work of contemporary playwright Katori Hall. In the following weekdays, Giselle Anatol and Rebecca Wanzo, will help NEH Summer Scholars project forward and link Hurston’s work to concepts of Black futurity, or Afro-futurism, by introducing them, respectively, to African American speculative fiction (formerly known as science fiction), graphic novels, and comics (i.e., Peter Bagge’s graphic biography Fire!!).
With the contextual framing provided by faculty along with the Co-Directors, NEH Summer Scholars will conclude the Institute by considering two culminating focal points: 1) positioning Hurston in African American literary and cultural studies of the twenty-first century and 2) determining the state and future of African American literature and culture. Quashie’s overviews on African American literary criticism and the tradition’s institutionalization along with Anatol’s and Wanzo’s focused attention on emerging genres will chart a new course for critical studies of Hurston. Graham, Hardison and Quashie will add to this discussion a closing presentation on the implications for Hurston on the New/Global South. NEH Summer Scholars will contribute to this production of knowledge—both cohering the first two weeks of the Institute and gesturing toward next steps beyond the Institute—with presentations on their collaborative projects as part of a mini conference with fellow NEH Summer Scholars. Ultimately, the final week seeks to encourage NEH Summer Scholars to keep Hurston on their horizons: to utilize her work and sustain her practice of tradition and innovation in their teaching and research.
Disclaimer: The schedule below reflects the original plan for an in-person Institute. While the general outline will remain the same, a revised schedule will be provided for the re-envisioned virtual Institute.