There are years that ask questions,” Zora Neale Hurston famously wrote in her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, “and years that answer.”
For Professor Darien Andreu, the past year has been one of answers. A member of Flagler’s Department of English faculty since 1987, Professor Andreu has long been interested in the impact of Southern writers on American literature. Recently, she has embarked on a renewed quest for answers in understanding the life and works of Hurston, an iconic African-American writer who grew up in Eatonville, Florida and later established ties in St. Augustine.1
Though she’d always been a passionate scholar of Southern literature, the particular focus on Zora was re-ignited after Professor Andreu participated in a teaching seminar offered by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History at Yale University a few summers ago. There she studied American slave narratives with renowned historian David Blight, and after returning home to St. Augustine, she turned her attention to the rich texture of Civil Rights history and literature here in the Ancient City.
“The experience at Yale re-sparked my interest in Southern writers,” she said. “Having the opportunity to look closely at slave narratives, to talk about them, and to witness the ways other people teach these texts was an amazing experience.”
And then something even more magical happened. Professor Andreu visited Yale’s Beinecke Library and saw the original manuscript of Zora Neale Hurston’s most revered novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
“It was truly incredible,” she remembered. “I saw the script, saw Zora’s own handwriting from one edge of the paper to the other. Immediately I felt an acceleration of my interest in Hurston studies, especially since Zora established connections in St. Augustine several times during her life. It was electrifying.”2
This year, Professor Andreu is bringing her renewed passion for Zora to Flagler students through an English Senior Seminar with a focus on Hurston.3 It’s a very fitting time, she noted. “We have not had a senior seminar with a focus on a black writer to date. Considering the anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement and the very important role St. Augustine played in both Civil Rights and Zora’s life, it seems like a natural fit. I’m so excited to bring this history and literature to our students.”