The Works of Zora Neale Hurston, Charles Chesnutt and Joel Chandler Harris Examined Through the Lens of Appropriation and Preservation
Folklore panel discussion set for Tuesday, March 22 at Spelman College
ATLANTA (March 18, 2016) -- The works of three influential writers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries will be the focus of the panel discussion, “A Conversation About Appropriation and Preservation of African-American Folklore: Zora Neale Hurston, Charles W. Chesnutt and Joel Chandler Harris,” at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 22 at Spelman College. The event is organized by the Spelman College Department of English and The Wren’s Nest.
The discussion, examining the difference between appropriating a culture and preserving a culture, will be led by Piper Huguley-Riggins, Ph.D., lecturer, Spelman; Ernestine Pickens Glass, Ph.D., professor emerita, Clark Atlanta University; and Bruce Bickley, Ph.D., Griffith T. Pugh Professor of English, Emeritus, Florida State University. Each of the preceding scholars has extensively researched and written about Hurston, Chesnutt and Harris, respectively.
Hurston (1891-1960), an anthropologist and the author of a number of seminal books including “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” is celebrated for preserving the folklore of African-American people in the South. Chesnutt (1858-1932) published essays and fiction portraying race in the post-Civil War South including the short story collection, “Conjure Woman.” Harris (1845-1908), a journalist and editor at the Atlanta Constitution, was most notably known for his “Uncle Remus” folktales.
The idea for the panel was sparked following a conversation between Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Ph.D., Spelman English professor, and Sue Gilman, executive director of The Wren’s Nest. “Sue and I had been discussing ways to help make the broader public more aware of the ways that The Wren’s Nest can serve them, ways that Harris’ work is still viable, and ways to help disrupt the racist past that some years have painted of The Wren’s Nest and Harris himself,” said Harper.
And Gilman had wanted to launch a series of conversations about race since joining The Wren’s Nest staff four years ago. “It is my personal belief that only by openly exploring the issues of racial prejudice can we find our way to the other side,” said Gilman. “We had begun small, intimate conversations at The Wren’s Nest, but we also wanted to bring this conversation to a larger audience. The idea of a conversation about appropriation and preservation was entirely Akiba’s and I jumped at the chance. Her expertise has been invaluable to us.
“I don’t really know what the outcome of the conversation on the March 22 will be,” added Gilman. “What’s important to me is that we can come together and explore what is true. By understanding our past and looking honestly at the present, perhaps we can begin to imagine a future free from racial prejudice.”
Dr. Harper said she hopes the panel discussion will entice those in attendance to take a closer look at the ways Hurston, Chesnutt, and Harris have preserved the language and the stories of the individuals they observed and lived among. “Perhaps the audience will also consider listening more closely to elders who share their own stories, and maybe even recording their elders to preserve their words and ideas,” she said.
The event, free and open to the public, is co-sponsored with LEADS at Spelman College. It will take place in Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D., Academic Center, Lower Level, Room 31. The street address is 350 Spelman Lane, Atlanta 30314 (GPS: 440 Westview Drive, Atlanta 30310). For more information, visit www.spelman.edu or call 404-270-5576.
About The Wren’s Nest
Located in West End, The Wren’s Nest is the historic home of Joel Chandler Harris, the Atlanta journalist who compiled the Brer Rabbit stories in the late 19th century. The museum was the Harris family home from 1881 to 1912 and is the oldest house museum in Atlanta. A National Historic Landmark, the museum was established due to the generous support of President Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, both admirers of Harris. A beacon of Atlanta white society for many years, the museum went through a transition in the mid-1980s when the doors were opened to African Americans for the first time. Over the last 15 years, in addition to a vital storytelling program, the museum has begun to offer two innovative writing programs for young people. The Scribes Program provides a one-on-one writing mentor to students in two middle schools in the community. The students write their own story, which is published in a book. The Optimist Review Program provides Atlanta area high school students the opportunity to create their own literary journal, which they curate, edit, and design. For more information, contact Sue Gilman, executive director, at email@example.com or 404-753-7735.
Spelman College Office of Communications
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About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a highly selective, liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, Ga., the College’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Outstanding alumnae include Children's Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman, Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer, Former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna President Audrey Forbes Manley, Harvard University professor Evelynn Hammonds, author Pearl Cleage and actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson. For more information, visit www.spelman.edu.