Q+A: Author and professor Ayesha Hardison discusses time at KUEC, new book on civil rights movement and beyond

Our faculty strive to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world. Meet Ayesha Hardison.

Ayesha Hardison

Ayesha Hardison is a busy woman. She is an associate professor in both the English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies departments at KU; director of KU’s Project on the History of Black Writing; and editor of the journal Women, Gender, and Families of Color. She was awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, which was used toward teaching an in-depth, three-week survey on Zora Neale Hurston. She also received a short-term fellowship at the National Humanities Center to advance a literary history of the civil rights movement, tentatively titled Specters of Segregation in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination. 

Hardison’s best-known work is her 2014 book Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature, where she examines African American literature and its representation of Black women during the pivotal but frequently overlooked decades of the 1940s and 1950s. 

Between teaching, publishing, and other duties, your CV is extensive, to say the least. This begs the question: do you ever sleep?

I do sleep, but how much sleep I get varies! Sometimes I wake up very early in the morning with ideas I need to incorporate into my work or with reminders of emails I need to send. Sometimes my various responsibilities require that I stay up a little later than usual. However, I believe in sleep and know it is very important for me to function and stay healthy.

Why did you choose to teach at the KU Edwards Campus?

I had the opportunity to teach on the Edwards Campus when my colleague Giselle Anatol invited me to guest lecture in one of her classes, which focused on a novel I had previously researched. I was pleasantly surprised to learn one of the students from that class enrolled in one of the classes I teach on the Lawrence Campus.

Your research is partially centered on Jane Crow – Jim Crow for Black women – and how it’s affected Black authors from the Harlem Renaissance onward. What is the most difficult part of your research, and how do you deal with it?

It is difficult sometimes to confront the systemic oppression Black women faced in the early and mid-twentieth century with little to no recourse. It becomes even more difficult when contemporary Black women’s experiences echo those of their historical counterparts. 

Mostly, however, I am inspired by how Black women writers depict the challenges they faced. I am inspired also by the fact that these writers persevered despite the obstacles they encountered in the publishing industry. It is important to me that we continue to engage these writers’ work. 

That’s how I deal with Jane Crow’s history: I try to spotlight those women who struggled against it.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I am grateful for all my accomplishments. Earning tenure, publishing a book, receiving a Ford fellowship, and conducting archival research at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture are all major highlights in my academic career. My proudest accomplishment might be earning a Ph.D. because it made my parents and family proud.

Talk about your current book project, Specters of Segregation in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination. What interests you most about this subject? What do you imagine your finished book looking like in the mind of the reader?

I am steady making progress on my current book project. After spending several years studying novels written in the 1940s and 1950s, I shift to more contemporary literature in this book. However, I continue to be interested in how African American literature deals with the past. 

I imagine readers of the finished book reflecting on all the everyday ways we encounter history — specifically the history of the civil rights movement — as well as rethinking what we consider as literary.

What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?

I enjoyed the students’ questions. They were curious and wanted to know more about the writer and novel discussed in the day’s class. Student curiosity is energizing for me as a professor. 

What is really close to your heart? What do you enjoy?

Reading has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. My mother has always been a reader, and she instilled a passion for reading in me. She bought me books when she bought books for herself to read, and she took me to the library often early on. Part of the reason I am a professor is because I wanted to have a career that allowed me the space to read, think, and talk about literature. 

Further reading:
The Project on the History of Black Writing
Women, Gender, and Families of Color

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