NTC: Why Sharpen the Knife? Why Wield the Pen?: Exploring the Contested Aesthetics of African American Literature through the “Wright-Hurston Debate”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

9:30 am - 12:30 pm

Room 101

Wait List Only
Programs for Teachers
Newberry Teachers' Consortium

Zora Neale Hurston famously stated that she is not “tragically colored” and does not belong to the “sobbing school of negrohood.” Richard Wright, in his review of /Their Eyes Were Watching God/, criticizes Hurston for continuing the tradition of minstrelsy and pandering to a white audience and, as critics have characterized his position, for neglecting to address the key issue of racial oppression in African American life. While the two authors did not really debate one another (Hurston did not directly address Wright), critics have nonetheless constructed this debate, often rooted in impoverished readings of each author’s fiction, as one dividing more ideological strains from purely “aesthetic” strains in the African American tradition. In this seminar, participants will explore this debate using Wright and Hurston as jumping off point for discussing the sociological and ideological assumptions underwriting the development of a body of literature identified as “African American” and for exploring the way these contestations over aesthetic practice, as we see most notably in the work of critics such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., inevitably involved issues of how African American political identity is defined and represented.

Seminar led by Tim Libretti, Northeastern Illinois University

Newberry Teachers’ Consortium is a subscription program open to Chicago-area teachers.