In this episode, we’ll discuss the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston, who was, simply, extraordinary. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, an all-black town, leaving home in her teens and working menial jobs in order to finish high school. She arrived in New York in the 1920s to study anthropology at Columbia University and quickly took her place as one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance. Fieldwork fueled her writing, most notably Mules and Men, a collection of African-American folktales published in 1935. Hurston also used lyrical, evocative prose in works like 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God to bring Black stories, voices, and places to life while exploring feminist themes well ahead of her time. Hurston is featured in the American Writers Museum’s special exhibit Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice, on display now.
For this episode, we are joined by Tayari Jones and Lindsey Stewart.
New York Times best-selling author Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, most recently An American Marriage, which was awarded the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Jones, a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, United States Artist Fellowship, and NEA Fellowship. Her third novel, Silver Sparrow, was added to the NEA Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University.
Lindsey Stewart is an Assistant Professor at the University of Memphis and the author of The Politics of Black Joy: Zora Neale Hurston and Neo-Abolitionism. Being a native Southerner (born and raised in Louisiana), her research focuses on developing black feminist conceptions of agency, with special attention to the intersection of sexuality, region, class, and religion. She is currently working on a manuscript, tentatively titled, Fever, which tells the story of how conjure women emerged in the US South, how they were thrust into the heart of national conflicts, and how they have shaped our American culture in response.
Tayari and Lindsey are interviewed by Nate King, Digital Content Associate at the American Writers Museum.