Lois J. Gaston, PhD is a veteran community college educator and administrator, and the grandniece of acclaimed author Zora Neale Hurston. From 1992 to 2006, she served as the President of the Ybor City Campus of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. There, she guided the campus through renovations and significant new construction projects, helped to establish an annual film and arts festival, and developed new academic offerings in dance and the performing arts. She previously worked as a classroom teacher and student services administrator in both Iowa and Illinois. She completed her undergraduate studies at Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, and earned a master's degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and a doctoral degree from Illinois State University. As a keynote speaker, Gaston addresses a variety of issues pertaining to higher education administration and African-American issues, as well as her perception of Zora Neale Hurston. She has spoken before audiences at the Florida State Big Read (with Governor Jeb Bush), and the University of South Florida.
As a child, Gaston heard stories about a famous great-aunt, the author Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was raised in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black community to be incorporated in the United States. After some time at Howard University, she went on to Barnard College in New York City and worked under the pioneer anthropologist Franz Boas. Among the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora stood out: she was a liberated woman in her time, one who wore slacks and smoked in public; yet, she was politically conservative, in contrast to many of her fellow Renaissance writers and artists. Her work drew heavily on her anthropology training; her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is enriched by her use of African American dialect. Today she is considered one of the nation's leading African American writers, one whose works are required reading in schools across the country.
By the time Gaston moved to Florida in 1992, Hurston had died; however, she bonded with previously unknown family members over her late relative's works. Today, Gaston and Lucy Anne Hurston are co-trustees of Zora Hurston's estate.
Gaston lives in Florida with her husband, Eric.