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Irvin Hunt

Helen Corley Petit Associate Professor of English and African American Studies


Hunt is the author of Dreaming the Present: Time, Aesthetics, and the Black Cooperative Movement (UNC Press, 2022). There he explores a question deeply pertinent to our times: what happens when progress is no longer the point? What happens to time? What happens to a movement? Unsettling our basic assumptions about what a movement is, he charts almost a century of black mutual aid and its extraordinary departures from progressive time. Tracking the activism and leadership of W. E. B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, George Schuyler, and Fannie Lou Hamer, he takes through schools, farms, banks, homes, health clinics, shops, daycares, and burial grounds to show how a people rebuilt a world on their own terms. 

With special attention to the interplay between activism and art, his research and teaching focus on topics including African American Literature, performance studies, freedmen's towns and experimental communities, social movement theory, and humor studies. His work has appeared in American Quarterly, American Literature, American Literary History, Public Books, Dilettante Army, Post45, and elsewhere. His work has received support from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John W. Kluge Foundation, and the NAACP. His is currently working on three books: Bitter Tea: Stories, Love Cycles: Poems and Edgelands: A Journey through Black Towns across America at the Edge of Time. Hunt is the 2022-23 Helen Corley Petit Scholar, an award given to no more than seven professors across the entire college for an extraordinary record of scholarship and teaching.  


Research Interests

African American cultural history, cooperative economics, social movement theory, performance studies, humor studies, political theory.  


Ph.D., Columbia University (2014); M.A., University of California, Berkeley (2007); B.A., Morehouse College (2005).

Awards and Honors

Helen Corley Petit Scholar, 2022-23 

Finalist for the Elizabeth Nunez Short Fiction Prize for “Bitter Tea,” Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival, 2021

Multiracial Democracy Manuscript Award for Dreams of the Present, Campus Research Board, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2019: workshopped book with Fred Moten and Roderick Ferguson, New York, January 2020

Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship, 2017-18

Postdoctoral Fellowship in African American Literature, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, 2016-17

John W. Kluge Fellow for a New Generation of Faculty Excellence, Columbia University, 2008

Courses Taught


“Mourning in Comic Time” (553)



“The Postwar Era and Contemporary American Literature” (452)

“Introduction to the Study of Literature and Culture” (200)

“Black Literature in America” (150)

“Modern African American Literature” (260)

“Love and Sound: Writing about Literature” (360)

“Utopian Economies in African American Literature” (461)

 “The American Novel since 1914” (251)

“African American Literature from the Beginnings to 1915” (259)

Additional Campus Affiliations

Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory

Highlighted Publications


Dreaming the Present: Time, Aesthetics, and the Black Cooperative Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2022)

Edgelands: A Journey through Black Towns across America and Beyond (in progress) 

Love Cycles: Poems (in progress) 

Bitter Tea: Stories (in progress) 



“How Literature Understands Poverty: An Introduction,” co-authored with Kinohi Nishikawa, Clare Callahan, and Joseph Entin, Special Issue of American Literature (Spring 2022).

“This Bridge Called the System: An Interview with Stephanie Morningstar,” Dilettante Army (Fall 2021).

“Planned Failure: George Schuyler and the Young Negroes Cooperative Guild,” American Quarterly 72.4 (2020): 853-879.

“Necromance,” American Literary History 31.4 (2019): 829–839.

“The Hesitations of Speculative History,” Contemporaries at Post45 (February 2019).

“The Humor We Fear Most,” Contemporaries at Post45 (February 2019).

Get Out: Not An Invitation, But a Warning,” Public Books (May 2017).

“On Ava Duvernay,” Public Books (Feb 2016).

Saints on the Dollar,Public Books (Jul 2014).

Everybody’s Protest Play?” Public Books (Jan 2014).



“Unco-Opted: Cooperative Economics as Counter Surveillance,” African American Literature: In Transition, 1940-50, Cambridge University Press (Spring 2022): 23,766 words.

“‘There Wont Be Inny Show Tonite’: Humoring the Returns of Scopic Violence in Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus," History and Humor: British and American Perspectives, eds. Doris Lechner and Barbara Korte, Transcript Press, Germany (October 2013): 81-103.



“Bread and Salt in African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, Caxtonian (April/May 2021): 8-9.

Review of The Ethics of Swagger and The Time Is Always Now, American Literature, 87 (Dec 2015): 622-24.