The BYU-Idaho College of Language and Letters hosted the Fall 2023 Big Read on Nov. 2.
Students ranging from exercise physiology to English gathered in the Hinkley Chapel to discuss “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston.
The discussion was led by Scott Cameron, a BYU-I professor of English. Cameron gave his prepared remarks on a writer’s responsibility to represent their culture. Students were invited to share their comments over microphones at the front of the Chapel.
Cameron began the discussion with the question: “Do you have a responsibility to represent and speak for your religious community in your writing, art or profession?”
Aspiring physical therapists, creative writers and teachers discussed their thoughts on the range of their responsibility to represent their religious beliefs, including living by example, showing love to others and teaching true principles.
Cameron tied the discussion back to the novel, stating that race and religion “are not synonymous.” Thinking about responsibility to culture is a helpful way to bridge the gulf between the reader and the characters.
“Your responsibility is a personal matter, but you should be asking the questions and considering the implications,” Cameron said.
The rest of the discussion covered the political period in which Hurston, the author of the book, wrote and how she chose to represent her culture in “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
“It definitely made me think about my culture and how that’s going to affect my future as a teacher,” said Emma Corbitt, an English education major.
This event continues the faculty of the College of Language and Letters tradition of voting on a novel to read and discuss throughout the semester, culminating in a campus-wide discussion.
“Reading creates in people an ability to see the world in a much more intelligible, reasonable, sophisticated, charitable and Christlike way,” said Darin Merrill, an English professor and the event organizer.
For a novel to be nominated for the Big Read it must be at least 70 years old and have cultural significance.