Black Love: Celebrating Their Eyes Were Watching God after 80 Years: A Special Issue of The Langston Hughes Review

Guest-edited by:
Ayesha K. Hardison and Randal Maurice Jelks

Abstract deadline: February 1, 2018

Bridging Harlem’s literary renaissance of the early twentieth century and the Depression era that followed, Zora Neale Hurston’s classic 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was a watershed moment in the history of black writing. The passionate, complex, and problematic relationship between Hurston’s protagonist Janie and her lover Teacake established significant discursive ground for subsequent representations of black eroticism that are not only reflected in literature but also films such as Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones, videos such as Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and television series such as Insecure, which stars actress Isa Rae. Long before contemporary narratives, Hurston explored the complexity of love as it was conceptualized specifically within African American communities. As such, Hurston’s life and art inspire guest editors Ayesha K. Hardison and Randal Maurice Jelks to invite articles on the theme of black love in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Harlem Renaissance, and interrelated black writings and black popular culture for a special issue of The Langston Hughes Review. We invite scholars and writers to join us in contemplating the emotional and affectionate bonds within black communities from the Harlem Renaissance to the current day. More specifically, we solicit scholarly contributions that rethink what “love” means in black communities by examining the works of Hurston and/or her various artistic and intellectual relatives.

Essay topics may include but are not limited to the following questions:

  • In what sense does Hurston’s commitment to study and represent black culture painstakingly exemplify black love?
  • How does literary convention shape Hurston’s and/or other writers’ representations of black peoples’ erotic experiences?
  • How were loving relationships of Harlem’s robust queer community depicted or not depicted literarily?
  • What kinds of conflicts about black love and/or their resolutions are depicted in the Harlem Renaissance or its discursive descendants?
  • In what ways can Love Jones, Lemonade, Insecure, and the film adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God be regarded as cinematic descendants of Hurston’s novel?
  • How are black sexualities framed, geographically mapped, and/or aesthetically expressed by black filmmakers and screenwriters?
  • How have the portrayals of intimacy, affection, and sex changed in the history of black literary and cultural production?
  • How might various spaces construct, shape, and bound diverse expressions of black love?
  • In what ways does Hurston’s depiction of marriage and sexual relationships compare with those of her cohorts in the Harlem Renaissance?
  • In what ways do Hurston and/or her cohorts such as Langston Hughes anticipate representations of black love by contemporary writers and artists?
  • How might we read specific soul, R&B, and/or hip-hop albums as musical progenies of Their Eyes Were Watching God?
  • How does black love negotiate the sacred and the secular?
  • How might we read Hurston’s depiction of Janie and her relationships within the political economy of black sexual politics?


Please submit a 250-word abstract and a two-page CV to Depending on the outcome of the editors’ review of the abstracts, full manuscripts (not exceeding 8,000 words) will be invited for peer review. The deadline for the submission of first drafts of full manuscripts will be August 1, 2018.

About the Journal:

The Langston Hughes Review is dedicated to promoting the legacy of Langston Hughes. LHR publishes peer review articles on all aspects of Hughes’s writing and career. The journal also highlights critical dialogues on the Harlem Renaissance as well as subsequent black writers and popular culture that are dialogically related. In addition, LHR publishes poetry and visual art.

About the Guest Editors:

Ayesha K. Hardison is Associate Professor of English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas. She also holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of African and African-American Studies. Her award-winning book, Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature (University of Virginia Press, 2014) examines representations of black women and the politics of black literary production during the 1940s and 1950s. Hardison has published book chapters and reviews as well as articles in African American Review and Meridians, and she has received fellowships and awards from the Ford Foundation, Schomburg Center, Black Metropolis Research Consortium in Chicago, and Kansas Humanities Council. Recently, she co-organized with Randal Maurice Jelks “Black Love: A Symposium,” a week-long series of events celebrating the 80th anniversary of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God at the University of Kansas.

Randal Maurice Jelks is a Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies. He also holds courtesy appointments in History and Religious Studies; he is the co-editor of the journal American Studies; and he is an ordained Presbyterian clergy (PCUSA). Jelks is the author of two award-winning books: African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids(The University of Illinois Press, 2006), which won the 2006 State History Award from the University and Commercial Press of the Historical Society of Michigan, and Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (University of North Carolina Press 2012), winner of the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2013 Literary Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. He recently co-organized with Ayesha K. Hardison “Black Love: A Symposium,” which celebrated the 80th anniversary of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Currently, Jelks serves as an executive producer for the two-part biographical documentary I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled, a film collaboration with the Dream Documentary Collective and the Lawrence Arts Center supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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