Looking to introduce high school or college students to the Iceberg Theory in a tropical climate? Then travel back in time with Ernest Hemingway and fellow Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston by teaching two of their essays as portals into examining personal narrative and self-definition in the modern world. The resources you need are online, free of charge, and are being successfully applied in classrooms from Gainesville, Florida, to Denver, Colorado, through a collaboration with the Florida State Theatre and Colorado State University-Global Campus. Taught together, the two authors offer broad perspectives on life in the Sunshine State nearly a century ago. Having nearly a century to reflect on the life and lore of both writers offers a sincere opportunity to study pressing issues of race, class, and gender at a distance before inviting students to ask similar questions of their own life and lore.
Hemingway’s 1935 third-person satire, “The Sights of Whitehead Street,” was first published as part of his Esquire series (1933-36). (Free registration is required; then click on "Contributors" and "Ernest Hemingway" to scroll down to the link to the article.) Hurston’s 1928 “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” was first published in The World Tomorrow: A Journal Looking Toward a Christian World. Publication history and subject matter set up binaries of the socio-political climate of the time, a time of economic and class uncertainty easily connected to today’s bombastic climate.
On a more cursory level, both essays show the impact visitors have on the locals. Both are written at very important bookends of Florida history—right before the bust of the late 1920s and in the middle of the rebuild of the 1930s. One begins with memories of a female black child looking out the window; the other is written by a notoriously male white man who has the world literally looking in his windows. A clear sense of place is in both. Race, class, and gender are among the key intersections to emerge as students read and learn that the oft-photographed smiling faces of both writers masque conflicting realities.
The ultimate goal of the project is to have students generate personal narratives about how it feels to experience their own sights, whether they are living in a small town in Florida or a city in Colorado. Students begin by reading the very real and sometimes raw words of writers of different races and classes who are at markedly different points in life. From there, the steps for exploring the texts can be as detailed as time and interest allow.
Suggested assignment steps include taking notes as the essays are read aloud in class, compiling annotated bibliographies on specific themes in the essays, comparing the essays to favorite modern essays, songs, etc. While generating their own drafts, students should also be guided to peer review and to conduct interviews with people important in their own lives. These extra layers enhance the critical discovery of sights and sounds in their daily lives. These experiences can then be added to the larger context of two of America’s most unique and imitated writers of the last century, Hurston and Hemingway.
Stone Meredith, Ph.D., teaches college-level literature, writing, and philosophy classes online and works primarily with military students and their affiliates. Her work with Hemingway focuses on connections to Florida and his journalism of the 1930s. She is the founder of Clever Chicas, a non-profit project celebrating ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Hemingway aficionados can listen to a free online recording of her wide-ranging interview of veteran Hemingway scholar and past Hemingway Society president Allen Josephs.