ENGLISH FACULTY FORUM - Assistant Professor Michael Hall

February 28, 2018

English Faculty Forum: Wednesday (2/28) 12-1pm in Hibbs 308

Dr. Michael R. Hall, "Variations on a Paradoxical Theme: Gendered Mobility, Modern Travel, and Imagination in Hurston's Early Creative Works."

Please see Professor Hall's extended description below.

In this talk on travel and literary imagination of African American writers I examine gendered mobility, modern travel and imagination in anthropologist and literary artist Zora Neale Hurston’s early creative works. Complementing Sterling Brown’s poetry, Hurston’s early novels imaginatively refract the early cultural history of Afro-modern travel due to the semi-autobiographical quality of Hurston’s literary art. Exploring gender, mobility, modern travel and imagination, I treat Hurston’s early novels Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), both of which are influenced by Hurston’s early ethnographic travels collecting folklore in the US South (1928-1932) and both of which present modern travel as a problem of mobility with gendered, racial and ethnic paradigmatic restrictions and impasses.

In Jonah's Gourd Vine Hurston presents a vision of mobility in which men are more mobile than women and in which the train image (as a metaphor for the paradox of freedom and confinement in the African American experience) is tied to men’s mobility, and by extension masculinity.  In Their Eyes she makes an artistic intervention depicting the journey of a female protagonist Janie who struggles against paradigmatic restrictions to assert her right to freedom of mobility.  As I argue, Hurston employs a strategy of theme and variation, a self-contained iteration of the African-American call and response tradition, to both state the problem and then intervene presenting a new vision of mobility in which gendered barriers are corporeally and psychically challenged, even to some extent surmounted.  Moreover, Hurston’s early novels taken together represent a critical, semi-autobiographical response to the gendered (racial and ethnic) paradigm of mobility she observed in her life and travels.  Demonstrating the significant influence of travel on Hurston’s creative works, I incorporate multiple genres including autobiography, biography, literary works and critical essay.