Hurston@125: Engaging with the Work and Legacy of Zora Neale Hurston

Deborah Thomas, Tami Navarro & more
Oct 28, 2016 | 10:00am
Event Oval, The Diana Center
3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027
Co-Sponsors: Department of Africana Studies (Barnard College), English Department (Barnard College), the Heyman Center for the Humanities (Columbia University), Institute for Research in African American Studies (Columbia University, the Office of the Provost (Barnard College), and the joint Barnard College/Columbia University Department of Anthropology

Zora Neale Hurston




Zora Neale Hurston, a graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University, has received great acclaim for her literary work, particularly the highly influential novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. In honor of the 125th anniversary of Hurston’s birth, BCRW celebrates Hurston’s legacy with a one-day symposium that brings together emerging scholars whose work builds upon Hurston’s less well-known training in anthropology and interdisciplinary modes of analysis and expression. The program will include panel discussions and a film screening of Hurston’s ethnographic work.

Speakers will include Alex Alston, John L. Jackson, Jr., Adriana Garriga-Lopez, Tami Navarro, Mariel Rodney, Patricia Stuelke, Deborah Thomas, Sarah E. Vaughn, Bianca Williams, and Autumn Womack.


Registration is preferred but not required.

RSVP to Attend


10:00 AM: Welcome

10:30-11:30 AM: Opening Keynote

Thick Depiction: How Taking Film Seriously Should Change Ethnography
John L. Jackson, Jr.

12:00-1:30 PM: Lunch & Film Screening

“Hurston’s Ethnography”
Discussion with Deborah A. Thomas and John Jackson, Jr.

1:30-3:00 PM: Panel Session 1

Hurston as Theory/Zora’s Avant-Garde
Alex Alston, Patricia Stuelke, Mariel Rodney & Autumn Womack

Featuring new work by emerging and junior scholars, this panel explores Hurston’s novels, stories, essays, and folklore as a form of literary or narrative theory, as well as a theorization of avant-garde literary practices. Investigating Hurston’s engagement with blackface minstrelsy as a counterintuitive practice of refusal, her early engagement with sound studies via the folkloric elements in her fiction, her innovative narrative critiques of ethnographic methodology and early sociology, and her Caribbean explorations as a base for critiques of US imperialism and neoliberal policies in the region, these panelists take Hurston’s work into new territory. ZNH@125 emerges as not only, “novelist, folklorist and genius of the south,” but also as a creative woman throwing a “straight lick with a crooked stick.”

3:00-3:30 PM: Break

3:30-5:00 PM: Panel Session 2

Hurston as Anthropology
Adriana Garriga-Lopez, Tami Navarro, Sarah E. Vaughn & Bianca Williams

This panel features work by four anthropologists working across the Caribbean. Like Hurston’s anthropology, their work is grounded in ethnographic connection with the region and its multiple diasporas. Unlike Hurston, these scholars are writing in what many see as a modern, decolonized, anthropology. This panel highlights the multiple contemporary socio-cultural processes involved in making ‘place,’ and draws us into a dialogue about Hurston’s legacy in the field.

5:00-5:30 PM: Break

5:30-6:30 PM: Closing Keynote

Diaspora at the Dawn of the 20th Century:  Embodied Knowledge and Politics Reconsidered
Deborah Thomas


Alex Alston is a second year PhD student at UC-Riverside working in Black Studies. A 2014 MA in African American Studies from Columbia University, he uses 20th century African American Literature, largely of the US South, including Zora Neale Hurston and Charles Chestnutt among others, to think through questions around the discursive-material category of the human and its construction against blackness.

Dr. Adriana María Garriga-López is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Anthropology Department during the fall semester of 2016. She is on sabbatical from Kalamazoo College in Michigan where she serves as Associate Professor of Anthropology. Garriga-López holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology (2010,) as well as Master of Arts (2003) and Master of Philosophy (2006) degrees in Anthropology from Columbia University in New York, under the supervision of Neni Panourgia. She holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Comparative Literature from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (2001,) where she co-founded LLEGO! (The Queer People of Color Union of Rutgers University.) Adriana was a Ph.D. student in the History of Consciousness Board of the University of California in Santa Cruz between 2000-2002, under the supervision of Donna Haraway. Her ethnographic research focuses on contagious disease and public health cultures in Puerto Rico, with an emphasis on the island’s political context. She is currently editing a book manuscript on “the coloniality of health in Puerto Rico,” which is based in part on doctoral, ethnographic research on HIV/AIDS. In addition to her academic writing, Garriga-López publishes poetry and short fiction in English and Spanish. She is also a performance artist, muralist, and soprano. Her creative work has appeared in Cruce, 80 Grados, Sargasso, Ad Hoc, African Writing, The Columbia Review, Beyond Polarities, and Piso 13. Finally, Adriana is at work on a book of poems entitled Ratchet of the Earth.

John L. Jackson, Jr. is the Richard Perry University Professor of Communication, Anthropology, and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Jackson is an anthropologist with a particular interest in ethnographic film and visual studies. He is widely known for his dynamic engagement with critical race studies, evident in his publications Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America; Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity; and Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness. With Deborah Thomas, he is the co-creator of the non-fiction film Bad Friday: Rastafari After Coral Gardens.

Tami Navarro is the Associate Director for the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Her work focuses on the intersection of international financial institutions and cultural production in the US Virgin Islands. By examining the emergence of neoliberal structures of banking and governance and how these forms intertwine with daily life in the Caribbean, she highlights the ways that new financial forms result in the entrenchment of various processes of racialization. With this she brings critical race theory to discussions of uneven geographic development.

Mariel Rodney, Assistant Professor of Literature at SUNY Purchase, is a recent PhD in English from Columbia University. An interdisciplinary scholar of African American literature and performance, she is currently at work on her first book manuscript, which examines how writers and performers alike imagine political and creative routes to freedom and “newness” in the 19th and 20th century. Her research interests include Afro-Caribbean intellectual traditions, sound and music studies, and the “modern” novel. Her most recent work explores the Harlem Renaissance and Afro-Caribbean women in depth by centralizing the histories of lesser known artists and activists. As an avid teacher and mentor, Rodney has developed courses in and lectured on American literature, music, and culture at Columbia University, the City University of New York, and Princeton University. She is the recipient of two fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She first joined the literature faculty at Purchase College in 2014–15 as a part-time lecturer.

Patricia Stuelke is Assistant Professor of English at Dartmouth College. Her work has appeared in Modernism/modernity, American Literature, American Quarterly, Photography and Culture, and College Literature. She was recently awarded the Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Prize from the Society of Southern Literature for her article on the black feminist recovery of Zora Neale Hurston and the neoliberal transformation of the Caribbean. Her current book project, The Making of the Affective Turn, is a literary and cultural history of the transition to neoliberalism in the Americas in the 1980s.

Deborah Thomas is Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her ethnographic work has largely been conducted in the Caribbean region (particularly Jamaica), where she has theorized the complexity of life in what Jamaica Kincaid has called a “small place.” Most recently, Thomas has taken up the issue of decontextualized violence and situated it firmly as an outgrowth of Jamaica’s violent colonial past. Like Hurston, Thomas works and thinks through the African diaspora, attempting to unearth both the ties that bind–and the divisions that separate–its members.

Sarah E. Vaughn is a post-doctoral scholar in the environmental anthropology program at Yale University. Her work focuses on questions of colonial and postcolonial science in Guyana. With an examination of both soil science and hydrology she demonstrates how seemingly neutral sciences of sustainability are always intertwined with racial logics and how, when connected with contemporary development projects, certain conditions for environmental justice are set and limited in the post-colonial Caribbean.

Bianca Williams is an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her work examines theories of race within diasporic communities with special attention to the United States and Jamaica. Focusing on how African American women create self and other through travel, new media technology, and how their experiences allow for a trenchant critique of racism, sexism and ageism in American culture, her work brings to the fore questions about the affective dimensions of race and gender.

Autumn Womack received her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 2013, specializing in nineteenth- and early-twentieth century African American literature. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh where her research and writing focuses on the relationship between visual culture, reform, and African American literary production. She is a 2015-2016 Postdoctoral Fellow in African American Literature at Rutgers University and a 2016-2017 Faculty Fellow at Penn State University’s Center for the History of Information. Her essays and book reviews had appeared, or are forthcoming, in Black Camera: An International Film Journal, Women and Performance, American Literary History, SmallAxe Salon, e-misferica, and Cambridge University Press’ multivolume series African American Literature in Transition, 1850-65. She is currently at work on her first book manuscript, “Re-form Vision: Race, Visuality, and Literature, 1890-1930.

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