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Virtual institute connects scholars to explore, celebrate work of Zora Neale Hurston

Thu, 06/03/2021

LAWRENCE – This summer, 25 scholars selected for an NEH Summer Institute will convene for an educational research collaboration hosted by The Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. They won’t come to Lawrence, as is their custom, but “Hurston on the Horizon” will allow the participants to connect virtually from across the country. As one of 46 institutions funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this year’s institute drew nearly 100 applicants, the largest in HBW’s history.

The 25 selected scholars will work with top Zora Neale Hurston literary scholars from the U.S. and abroad, engaging with Hurston’s work by participating in synchronous discussions, observing asynchronous presentations, and collaborating on research and teaching projects. Leading Hurston scholars who have confirmed participation include Deborah Plant, Carla Kaplan, John Lowe, Claudine Raynaud and Carmaletta Williams. Additional experts in African American literature and culture include Kevin Quashie, Deborah McDowell and Glenda Carpio as well as KU faculty members Giselle Anatol, Nicole Hodges Persley, Darren Canady and Paul Outka.

The institute is organized by project director Ayesha Hardison, KU professor of English and women, gender & sexuality studies, and by Maryemma Graham, University Distinguished Professor and founder of the Project on the History of Black Writing.

“We are excited to collaborate with the scholars and faculty of the NEH Summer Institute for an intensive study of Hurston, from her most celebrated fiction and ethnographies to her lesser-known work in film and journalism,” Hardison said. “We hope the institute’s return to Hurston, who proves more complex and innovative whenever someone rereads or rediscovers her, will spark new conversations in teaching and research within Hurston studies. I look forward to not only the insights about Hurston we will gain together this summer but also engaging in what she valued most: community and culture.”

Inspiration for the institute came from Hardison, who had organized the Black Love Symposium in 2017 celebrating the 80th anniversary of Hurston’s famous novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The book is not only one of the best-known works in the American literature canon but also among the most widely taught in high schools and colleges. The weeklong event in 2017 included the Lawrence community along with a host of scholars, Hollywood directors, graduate and undergraduate students, topped off by a marathon reading of the novel in downtown Lawrence.

In addition to the virtual summer institute, there will be a series of webinars in the fall providing an opportunity to connect with contemporary writers. The group will also be invited to reconvene on-site at the 2022 Zora! Festival in Eatonville, Florida. The festival is a major event for the author’s hometown and sponsored by P.E.C., Preservation for the Eatonville Community, which serves as the institute’s partner organization. 

“Hurston on the Horizon: Past, Present and Future” will take place July 11-30. College and university teachers and three graduate students selected for the institute are listed below by name and institutional affiliation:

  • Jalylah Burrell, San Jose State University, San Jose, California
  • Jane Caputi, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida
  • Devon Epiphany Clifton, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
  • Mary Corliss, Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona Beach, Florida
  • Marina del Sol, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
  • Amy Foley, Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island
  • Gary Ford, Lehman College, Bronx, New York
  • Michelle Cowin Gibbs, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois
  • Lyndon Gill, University of Texas, Austin, Texas
  • LaToya Jefferson-James, Mississippi Valley State University, Itta Bena, Mississippi
  • Jacqueline Jones, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, New York
  • Johnny Jones, Simmons College of Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Michelle Jones, Aurora University, Aurora, Illinois
  • Jerrica Jordan, Tarrant County College, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Valerie Rose Kelco, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Marina Magloire, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida
  • Leah Milne, University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Stephen Pasqualina, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada
  • Mary Pattillo, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
  • Jimisha Relerford, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
  • Sondra Bickham Washington, Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida
  • Angela Watkins, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana
  • Ayana Weekley, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan
  • Paula White, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee
  • Salvador Zárate, University of California, Irvine, California

The Project on the History of Black Writing is a research unit in the Department of English within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. HBW has put literary recovery work at the center of its research and inclusion work for nearly 40 years. Most recently, HBW’s expansion with a number of digital humanities initiatives involves a partnership with KU Libraries and the HathiTrust Research Center. To date, the National Endowment for the Humanities has supported 15 of HBW’s publicly funded projects.

For more details about the institute itself and events open to the public, visit https://hurston.ku.edu.



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