Dr. Monica Miller, Calhoun parent and English/Africana Studies professor at Barnard, visited two eleventh grade English classes to discuss Zora Neale Hurston during their unit on Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston was the first African American student at Barnard and contributed to the ideas of Harlem Renaissance during her time there. Dr. Miller, a Hurston scholar, provided lesser-known context to the novel through photos, stories and excerpts of writing from Hurston.
The class was a deep dive into Hurston’s experiences, writings and journey before writing her magnum opus, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Dr. Miller discussed the late author’s early life, important concepts from her writing such as the “featherbed resistance” and “jump at the sun,” and the significance of some of her earlier pieces like Colorstruck and Mules of Men. She also emphasized the importance of Hurston’s experience as the first Black student at Barnard, and the hardships she went through to remain at the institution and receive recognition for her writing.
Dr. Miller’s visit was a great opportunity for Calhoun students to experience a lecture from a college professor and to hear key insights about Hurston from a scholar that could inform their learning: “This was one of my favorite class experiences at Calhoun. It was really interesting to learn about Hurston through the lens of Their Eyes Were Watching God and Dr. Miller. It really made me value the book so much more,” said Anika S. ‘24. “Being able to have an in-class discussion with her just gave me a taste of what college life would be like. The fact that we were able to have that opportunity in class in a high school setting was invaluable,” she continued. The students were engaged and intrigued by the details of Zora Neale Hurston’s life, and with Dr. Miller’s guidance, connected a lot of her experiences with characters in her writing. It was a unique and fulfilling experience for our students that helped prepare them in a small way for their future academic journeys.