Summer 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

358:445 Seminar: Zora Neale Hurston: An Experiment in Form

E6  6/24-8/2 TTH 6:00-10:00 PM  CAC  05282  MARTINO  SC-121

Zora Neale Hurston: An Experiment in Form

Many of us are familiar with Zora Neale Hurston’s famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Now regarded as a classic, taught in schools, and even turned into an Oprah-sponsored, made-for-TV movie in 2005, the novel has become a celebrated representation of black womanhood. When it came out in 1937, however, it was not well received. The novel’s critical failure was the first in a series of controversies that led to Hurston’s work falling out of favor and remaining unread for decades. To understand how her work went from obscurity to its present canonicity involves understanding Hurston as more than the writer of Their Eyes Were Watching God. She wrote three other novels, a variety of short stories, and critical essays. Trained as an anthropologist, she collected folklore and traveled through the American south and the Caribbean, publishing groundbreaking anthropological works that blur the line between the scientific and the literary. Inspired by those travels, she strove to present black folklife on the stage, writing an unsuccessful musical revue for Broadway and collaborating with Langston Hughes on a play that would eventually end their friendship. Through all of these projects, Hurston experimented with form, pushed the boundaries of acceptable literary representation, and produced some of the funniest, most audacious and fully realized portraits of black life. We will look at the themes and tropes that Hurston engages across these many different forms in order to arrive at an understanding what possibilities each form afforded her in the representation of blackness. Ultimately, we will work to account for Hurston’s long and varied career and better understand some of the critical and intellectual debates that shaped it.

This course will engage a variety of texts from Hurston’s early involvement in the Harlem Renaissance to her more complicated political writing of the 1940s. Primary texts by Hurston might include Mules and Men, Color Struck, Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life, and a return to Their Eyes Were Watching God. We will also read excerpts from some of Hurston’s key interlocutors and critics including Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict. Students will also engage a variety of criticism from Hurston’s “rediscovery” in the 1970s through the present, which may include essays by Cheryl Wall, Elin Diamond, Alice Walker, Mary Helen Washington, Carla Kaplan, Deborah Plant, and others. Students will write one 8-10 pp. final paper and will complete two short writing assignments.