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University Relations

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Feb. 13, 2006
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, (785) 864-8853.

KU chancellor to speak on Zora Neale Hurston in Topeka, Lawrence, Florida

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway will be giving talks on African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston in Topeka and Lawrence in February and at the annual ZoraFest in Fort Pierce, Fla., in April.

Hemenway is a Hurston scholar, and his 1977 book, Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, was a “Best Books” pick by the New York Times in 1978 and a Quality Paperback Book Club selection in 1991. Hurston (1891-1960), an anthropologist as well as novelist, is regarded as the foremother of the study of African-American culture. Her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was adapted for an Oprah Presents film televised in 2005 starring Halle Berry.

As part of Topeka’s community-wide Big Read project “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Hemenway will speak at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, in Marvin Auditorium at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 SW 10th Ave., Topeka.

Hurston’s niece, Lucy Anne Hurston, author of Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, will join Hemenway in a public discussion of the life and work of the author who died in obscurity. Since the rediscovery of Hurston in the 1970s, millions of copies of her books have been sold and her work is now part of university American literature and African-American and women’s studies programs throughout the United States.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, Topeka’s Big Read project began Feb. 5 and continues with programs through March 31. KU is among the charter partners for Topeka’s Big Read project.

As part of Black History Month, KU’s Black Student Union is sponsoring a public program with Hemenway talking about Hurston at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20, in the Courtside Room of the Burge Union. BSU members plan a question and answer session with the chancellor about his research, Hurston’s life and work and the resurgence of interest in her work, said Rona Remmie, BSU vice president and Kansas City, Mo., sophomore. Hemenway began researching Hurston as a graduate student, and his doctoral dissertation became a book.

On Saturday, April 29, Hemenway will join two more Hurston biographers for a program at the 2006 ZoraFest in Fort Pierce, Fla. The biographers are Atlanta journalist Valerie Boyd, who has credited Hemenway for inspiring her to write Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (2003), and Carla Kaplan, author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters (2002). Kaplan teaches at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles.

Others joining the ZoraFest on April 29 include author and human rights activist Stetson Kennedy of Beluthahatchee, Fla., who worked with Hurston on the WPA, and author and scholar Deborah Plant of University of South Florida. Hurston’s niece, Lucy Anne Hurston, is also expected to join the program at Fort Pierce on Sunday, April 30. The Zora Fest runs April 28 to 30.

For more information about the Topeka Big Read visit or call (785) 580-4540. Information about ZoraFest is available online at or by calling (772) 462-2548.


The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus. | (785) 864-3256 | 1314 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045