In this final episode of the season, you will hear our incredible conversation with Professors Riché J. Daniel Barnes, Kevin Quashie, and Autumn Womack, and vocalist and composer Candice Hoyes from Wednesday, May 4th.
Traditionally, Zora Neale Hurston has been more widely celebrated for her contributions to American literature than as an anthropologist and folklorist. In recent years, we have begun to see more mainstream recognition of her interventions into the discipline of anthropology. This re-membering has been accompanied by a variety of aesthetic invocations, particularly to signal disruption, authenticity, and the avant-garde. In this way, Zora is called into practice and treated as an object of use. We will invite academics and artists to discuss how Zora Neale Hurston inspires their work and the phenomenon of Black women’s use as the “sliding glass door” (James 2015) that opens up into new conditions of possibility. We will reflect upon the instrumentalization of Black women to ask: How can we tend to Black women’s memory and legacy with care?
Thank you for listening to Season 2 of the podcast! We’ll be back in September for Season 3. In the meantime, you can keep up with us via Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon over the summer. Love and light, y’all!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Season Two, Episode 16
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James
Guest Speakers: Riché J. Daniel Barnes, Kevin Quashie, Autumn Womack , Candice Hoyes
Title: Practicing Zora
Total Length: 01:39:38
[00:00:00] Music Plays [Zora’s Moon (Natasha Diggs Remix Radio Edit) by Candice Hoyes]
[00:00:15] Music descends
[00:00:15] AJ: Good afternoon, good evening to everyone. Thank you all for coming. My name is Alyssa James, I use she/her/hers pronouns, and I will be moderating tonight’s event with Brendane Tynes. We are both PhD candidates in the department of Anthropology at Columbia University and co-hosts of the Black feminist Anthropology podcast Zora’s Daughters. I’m speaking to you from Martinique, an island in the Caribbean originally inhabited by the Arawak and Kalinago peoples. We want to acknowledge that Columbia University is based in New York City, which is Lenapehoking, the homeland of the Lenape people. We honor all of the indigenous nations and their land with gratitude and acknowledge the genocide and continuous displacement of indigenous peoples. We also acknowledge the enslaved Africans whose labor built Martinique, Manhattan, and the New World at large. The harm inflicted upon these indigenous communities that reverberate to this day are irreparable. Nevertheless, we find joy in community and spaces such as these, where we can engage in the respectful and generous exchange of ideas. Generative, imaginative, and celebratory spaces are all the more important in moments like this, where we are experiencing the ongoing assault on the rights and freedoms of our ancestors and elders, that they so bravely fought for.
[00:01:41] BT: Similar to Zora’s Daughters programming, we love a chat that is popping, right. So please, introduce yourself in the chat. Please give us your name, your pronouns, where you are in the world. And this is mostly from me because I love astrology, if you can share with us—if you know—your sign, your big three. For example, I’m a Gemini sun, I am a Pisces moon, and I’m also a Scorpio rising, so I got a lot of stuff going in my head, in my body, in my mind. Like it’s a lot of stuff going on, right. And I would love to hear what you all have going on with your signs as well. And if you’re feeling especially zesty, right, we want to know how have you been keeping your peace as of late. Because as Alyssa said, right, there have just been so many things happening in this world and it’s important for us to know that, even in the midst of all of this, peace is possible. Peace is here, available to us. As we continue through this program, we also want—[responding to chat] Oh you a Gemini too, hey! Wait, what month? What month, before I celebrate.
[00:03:00] Candice: May.
[00:03:00] BT: Ohh. Woah.
[00:03:04] Audience Member: Same day as Patti Labelle [laughter]
[00:03:09] BT: Ohh, see I love that though. See, hmm, that’s explains so much. The music, everything. Ohh, so we have Alana [sp?] she/her/hers who is, let’s see, Alana is from Tampa, Florida Pisces sun, Scorpio moon, rising Aries. Alana I’m sure the people in your life love you deeply, cause you ride for them honey. I’ve not met an Aries that didn’t ride for people. So yes, please continue to share in the chat and as we discussed, today we wanna hear from you. This is not the normal roundtable conversation where people are reading off of papers and we’re just listening to scholars talk, right. This about creating a community in which we can all celebrate the legacy of Zora together and engage from our prospective places in life. So, we wanna know your reactions. We have some really stellar scholars here to talk to us today. We wanna know what resonates with you, we wanna know what kind of discussions you would like for us to have. And since this is a. webinar, right, please submit your questions as we go. You can send them to me, and we will read the questions during the Q and A period at the end of our time together. And finally, we would like to thank the Department of Anthropology and the Racial Justice Mini Grant Program for the funding to host this event. And the Racial Justice Mini Grant Program is funded through University Life and supported by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life.
[00:04:43] AJ: Great. Now without further ado, let us introduce our wonderful panelists. First, we have Dr. Riché J. Daniel Barnes, who is a sociocultural anthropologist whose specializations are at the intersection of Black feminist theories, work and family policy, and African diasporic raced, gendered, and class identity formation. She is an award-winning teacher and scholar, having won the 2017 Distinguished Book award given by the American Sociological Association for her book, Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community. Dr. Barnes is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology in the African American studies program and the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida, where she hopes to revive Zora Neale Hurston Diasporic Studies Project started by Black feminist anthropologist Herman Maclaurin.
[00:05:46] BT: Hi Riché, so good to see you again. I love this mustard—is this a mustard color—I love this on you.
[00:05:53] RB: Yes, thank you. It’s great to see you too Alyssa and you too Alyssa.
[00:05:57] AJ: Yes, lovely to see you again.
[00:06:01] BT: Candice Hoyes is our second panelist today, and Candice is a vocalist, composer, archivist and “curator of a chill inducing range” according to Vogue, right as she “brings Black history into the present” and that is also from NPR. The prolific singer and songwriter draws upon jazz, soul, opera, and electronic music and is cited in Carnegie Hall’s Afrofuturism timeline as part of their 2020 to 2023 curation. Born to Jamaican parents—whoop, whoop—[laughter] always gravitated toward music at an early age. Influenced by jazz and soul of the 70s and the 90s operatic music and feminist icons found in her parents record collection as a kid, she began penning and performing her own interpretations of these gems. She’s an alumna of Harvard, Columbia, and has done a couple of TED conferences. Wow, what can’t she do? Her new album, Blue Lagoon Woman is a Bomb Magazine Editor’s Choice, stating in four tracks, Candice voices EP Blue Lagoon woman leads us through the history of Black American music from 1920 to 1998. And you should know that while we all were kind of filing into this and figuring out our technical difficulties, we were also listening to a remix of her song Zora’s Moon from that album. And that is the reason why—we heard the song and were like, yes, we have to have this kind of interplay between artists and scholars for this kind of event. So, thank you, Candice, for your—
[00:07:39] CH: Thank you.
[00:07:41] AJ: Thank you so much for being here. Next up, we have Dr. Kevin Quashie, who teaches Black cultural and literary studies and is a professor in the Department of English at Brown University. Primarily, he focuses on Black feminism, queer studies, and aesthetics, especially poetics. He’s the author or editor of four books. Most recently, The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture, published in 2012, and Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being published in 2021. Currently, he is thinking about a book of Black sentences and Black ideas. And of course, Zora lover. And so, we’re very excited to have you here today.
[00:08:25] KQ: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me and thank you for opening with Zora’s Moon, I love, love that song. Love the remix of it, too.
[00:08:35] AJ: So good to see you again.
[00:08:37] KQ: Good to see you.
[00:08:42] BT: Last but certainly not least we have Dr. Autumn Womack, who earned a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, which [claps hands] yes. Her research and teaching interests are located at the intersection of late 19th and early 20th century African American literary culture, visual studies, and print culture. Her first book, The Matter of Black Living: The Aesthetic Experiment of Racial Data, 1880-1930 was published just last month in April 2022. So, congratulations [claps hands]. We read a little bit of it to prepare for today. So, you know, it’s already looking great. And this book shows how African American intellectuals and cultural producers use aesthetic experimentation to negotiate the intimate relationship between Black life and data regimes at the turn of the 20th century. Womack has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a postdoctoral fellowship at Rutgers University Department of English and a faculty fellowship at Penn State Center for the history of information. Thank you so much Dr. Womack for joining us. So good to see you.
[00:10:07] AJ: [pause] [unclear] the last but are you able to unmute Dr. Womack?
[00:10:17] AW: Oh, yes, hi.
[00:10:18] AJ: All right. Great. Just wanted to make sure.
[00:10:21] AW: We’re okay. Thank you, sorry [unclear] on Zoom
[00:10:25] AJ: Perfect. Okay, so we are gonna get started. Of course, we’re going to play Zora’s Moon and I’m going to share my screen so you all can see the video and then we’ll get right into our questions, our conversation.
[00:10:50] [Song Begins]
[00:10:50] [Audio Sample of Two Women Discussing Zora Neale Hurston] Of course, that just gives no idea of all the things that have happened to Zora Neale Hurston in that time. No. She’s had Guggenheim fellowships, and she’s been elected to anthropological fellowships and what’s that other one? Ethnological. Ethnological fellowships. Yes, and folklore.
[00:11:07] [Music Starts]
Yes, and she’s going around the country collecting folklore, doing a beautiful job. But all of that will come out I think as we go along. I was amused at so many of the stories in Dust Tracks on a Road. There was one thing you said about children that I loved. Isn’t it true that when we’re little we just think the world revolves around us? Yes. Things are gonna happen to other people, bad things, but they aren’t gonna happen to us, no sir. And that thing you said about the moon following you, tell about that.
[00:11:41] [Vocalizations Added]
Well, if you go outdoors tonight and the moon is up I forget just what state the moon is in right now but anyhow if the moon is shining you go out and you run, and it’ll follow you
[00:11:59] [Singing Starts]
And so, it was arranged the moon would follow me,
whatever tell way I ran, the moon would follow me.
And I was shocked when I found out it followed other people
cause I thought I was just something very special.
Still, I didn’t quite believe it, how it could go with them when I’m going my way.
Well, if you go outdoors tonight and the moon is up, you go out and you run
And it will follow you….
So disillusioned when I found it followed other people
Making the same claim on the moon.
Still, I didn’t quite believe it, how it could go with them when I’m going my way.
And still, I didn’t see
How it could go with them and me
Whatever tell way I ran, going my way.
Ooo, I didn’t see
Going my way, going my way, my way….
[00:16:12] AJ: Just had to make sure—oops. All right, just wanted to make sure everyone gets their credits where credit is due. Such a lovely song. I know that when I was a child, I definitely had ideas about the things that only I experienced. And then realizing that other people experienced the same thing it was like this that period of loss of innocence, which I think is s what Zora’s addressing in her quote. But we will come to that in one of our later questions. So let us just jump right into it. Of course, in the abstract, the broader question that we’re thinking about when we are curating this roundtable was about tending to the legacy of Black women with care. And so, Candice, you said in an interview that you have, “one foot in the future and one foot in legacy, when you are composing and creating.” So, could you please tell us about this song? And what inspired your use of this particular excerpt of Zora Neale Hurston interviews? And how does your song and really your entire album project, you know, become a place where you go your way? And while you’re responding, I think it’ll hopefully give others some time to think about the questions that we’d love to hear them speak to, which is what do you think Zora’s principal legacy is? And how has it influenced your disciplinary practice? And finally, where do you see possibilities for Black self-determination through Zora’s work and your own?
[00:18:01] CH: Oh, well, first, I want to thank you. I love Zora’s Daughter’s podcast, and I’m grateful that it exists. So, thank you, Alyssa, and thank you Alyssa for having me and to be in community with all of you and these incredible scholars. I’m a lover of literature. So that’s how I even found Zora as a teen, and I want to just give a shout out to Cynthia because I was—I’ve never—haven’t felt such delight in some time as watching you embody the song through ASL Cynthia. And I had to grab my phone and I don’t want to forget that. It was just beautiful to me. I got very teary because of the way—just to give you a little insight about Going My Way and the construction of the song and if time and context allows, I’ll share with you why I came to write it. Well, I guess I will anyway. I’ll go there. So, the song. I wrote the song in 2017. Long before I released it, I started writing it. I am the first artist and first generation American. I’m the first artist in my family and my career as an artist hasn’t been defined or guided by a particular mentor, stage mom or, you know, any sort of fairy godmother, so to speak as we talk about Zora. But I come from very loving family and also who encouraged my love of books and music. And I had to kind of find my way from there to what I’m doing now.
And in 2017, I had a really beautiful career in many aspects, but I felt constrained by the industry as far as what I was allowed to do. I’d had my content, you know, taken. You know, misappropriated and many, many challenges that we face as artists and sometimes writers, thinkers. And, you know, I wanted to think, expand my territory, started writing my own work for myself. And I went to the archives, which is where I go, especially when I need to heal myself. I go to biographies and look under the hood of works that I love. And listening to this, finding this interview in the Library of Congress archives, this interview that I sampled of Zora Neale Hurston in 1946 talking on, you know, free airwaves, in this interracial conversation with a white self-described lesbian woman, who was the host of the show, Mary Margaret McBride and a radio pioneer. And hearing her talk about this intimate story from Dust Tracks on a Road about her own life long before she was famous, but also citing her accolades in a way that I often don’t walk into a room and do. To list out, you know, these grants that I’ve won, and also, aspiring to win more and to go further. Those are all grants that I haven’t actually won, I’ve won other ones, but those are things that I aspire to. So, the video you just saw, I made, I directed myself in June 2020.
And part of the reason why I’m dancing with my own shadow is that sense of alienation that’s inherent in the artists way that I learned from studying Nietzsche and Cornel West and James Baldwin. And looking at the life of Zora, I wanted to be forthright about it. And yet, there’s this sense of cosmic journeying that I get from Zora and that helped me to shape my territory. And so, again I think, has been the start of that in my career or another, like a rebirth of that. So that’s my full answer on that. And the words, the lyrics, that’s why it was so emotional for me when I see people dancing, remixing—well I was part of the remix. But anytime anyone embodies the Zora’s Moon song, it’s very meaningful to me because in the tradition of Zora, I took the colloquial language that she used, and I set that. I didn’t really move syntax too much. I, in an homage to the way that Hurston used colloquialism and redefined literary, you know, technique. So, I wanted to kind of embed her own life, her own voice, and without, you know, really muddying it too much, just as an aspect of perpetuating that and also blasting it further into the cosmos. So, it was sort of for, you know, to like a sonic monument.
[00:23:26] BT: Yeah, I think that is really, really beautiful Candice, and a way to allow us to think about the ways that the metaphysical or spiritual or the cosmic, the destined actually plays into legacy, into work, into Black self-determination. And I love how you say, you talked about the archive being a healing space. I work in the archive, I know Autumn, Kevin, and Riché also works in the archive. Like we all work in the archive, and I know I found it to be a healing space, a space where I can see reflections on myself or my ancestors as well. And so, thank you for also calling that into this conversation with us. But yes, I would like to hear from the rest of you. What do you all think is Zora’s principal legacy and how has it influenced your disciplinary practice? Right? And where do you see possibilities for Black self-determination through Zora’s work and then also through your own? And anyone can, you know, pipe up whenever you’re ready.
[00:24:39] RB: Oh no, I’ll go first, in part because this will make me be brief because I know other people need to talk after me. Um, I have so, so much to say about Miss Zora and her impact on my life and all my work. I mean, I think, you know, obviously first and foremost as an anthropologist. I think one of the, she was you know, sadly, the second anthropologist, I was introduced to. The first being Johnnetta Cole. But they, they both have had such a tremendous impact on my life and work. You all hear me talk about Johnnetta Cole all the time. So, we talk about legacies, you know, just the connecting. The connections between the two of them, right, being daughters of the South, daughters of Florida. You know, of true diasporic ethnographers who have really foregrounded, you know, the diasporic connections, the importance of looking at gender and, you know, in talking back right to the discipline of anthropology. And I was remembering as I was listening to the song which, sadly, this is my first time hearing it, so I’m so happy to be introduced to it. I found it really beautiful and lovely, and just embodying so much of you know, what we, how we imagine. I mean, just, I mean, she has so many facets, but this is, you know, when we can really imagine and connect to in so many ways.
But I was remembering that my first kind of, you know, serious anthropological ethnographic writing that got any attention, was a humanistic essay that I wrote about being a native daughter, a native daughter of Zora Neale Hurston and of the South. And I tried to focus in on her importance to native anthropology, what we have traditionally called native anthropology, which for those of you who don’t know, is basically, you know, anthropologists talking back to the discipline, you know, those who have who have not been researched, right, researched properly, from their own viewpoints. It’s those people in those identities, doing research on the on their own, right, understanding their own communities, their own histories, their own cultural contributions. And Zora Neale Hurston was, you know, one of the first. Definitely the first most of, you know, a lot of us knew of who did that work and did it on Black folks, right. Who were not—and especially Black folks in the South, right—who were not really being represented well, if at all. Because anthropologists had been so concerned with doing research abroad, American anthropologists, and continue to be in many ways. So as a scholar who knew even as an undergraduate that I wanted to do work on the Black community in the United States, I looked to Zora Neale Hurston, as someone who had had done that, and had had done it in a way that was recognizable for me as someone who had grown up in the South and who was a descendant of enslaved Africans in the United States on both sides of my family. It was just a really deep connection.
And then having gone to Spelman as an undergraduate, being introduced to Alice Walker and Pearl Cleage and the way that they embrace being Black women of the South and writing richly about our experiences, embracing the fact that those experiences have not always been pleasant, most often not pleasant, but that there is—and I saw this in your video—joy. Right, joy is an act of resistance. And that came through too, right, in reading about Zora Neale Hurston. I love her self-determination and the way she constructed herself over and over, down to the, you know, we don’t know exactly when she was born [laughter]. So that, you know, as I said, there are so many things I could say. But I think I’ll end with saying, when I got the opportunity to come to the University of Florida, one of the things that I was most excited about was being in her home state. And so close to Eatonville, which I had visited before, you know, earlier, I’ve been to the Zora festivals and everything. And did a panel even with Armand McClaren one year when I was early in my career, who started doing work as an anthropologist on Zora Neale Hurston many years ago and is still working on that project. So, I just saw it as a way to kind of come home. Even though I’m from Georgia, I just have always felt this connection. I definitely feel like North Georgia is more like South Florida—more North Florida is more like South Georgia than it is like South Florida. So, I’m definitely just, you know, glad to be here in conversation with you all again. And looking forward to engaging with everyone as we continue this conversation.
[00:31:43] AW: I can pop in, can you guys hear me okay, I feel like my voice is at the end of its rope. May, it happens. Thank you, Candice, it’s such a beautiful video, I’d seen it before. But it is really lovely to see it in relationship to the ASL. And so, in the context of the conversation, I think just animates different aspects of it. And, you know, particularly the, what Riché was drawing out about the performance and kind of cinematic capture of joy that you also resonate with the sonic quality is really, really quite beautiful. I’ll be really brief or try to be brief in talking about Hurston’s influence to my own work. And I thought about this question a bit, because I was also like, I don’t—where do you, how do you pin it down. And I think that’s one of the fun, generative things about how Hurston moves through and moves with all of our work is that it’s just always kind of there, even if you can’t necessarily pin it down. It’s always at work. But I think one of the things and this might be a super, super academic answer, but here we are. I think one of the ways that I see her really shaping is in kind of methodological practice, that also really structures I think, the way that I approached the archive and the writing. Which is to say, I see Hurston as always deriving theories from the practice of Black life that she lived and encountered.
So, for me, that’s a way of really, in a 21st century and 20th century context, right when I began writing about her is really, you know, letting the archive and the texts at hand determine the theories that I’m evoking right. So, I feel like for Hurston, like what she saw on camera, or what she heard in her, you know, while she was living and working in the South, structured how she organized her writing. Like the theory of angularity, like what she saw how she saw Black folks moving, how their voices sounded, then became something that she gave theoretical voice to and characteristics. And then it also structured the text itself. Like it’s, you know, people write about how it’s jagged and there’s different indentations so that there’s this dynamic interplay between Black living and Black writing and kind of theories of blackness, that I try to work with and think through as a way of drawing theories and methods and kind of really aesthetic writing style from archives from Black living. So, it’s that kind of dynamic interplay that I think I find really always inspiring and always just kind of, I’m in Awe of it every time. I’m like, how do we how did she like, how was angularity like a formal thing, and a theoretical thing and a performative thing and a sonic thing? Like, and how did you know it? So, it’s that kind of richness that I am really drawn to.
[00:34:52] KQ: I could just listen to my colleagues talk all afternoon. I mean, I think I had the fortune, Candice Hoyes, you presented the song and the video at the NEH Institute on Hurston this summer. And I was a faculty lead and so I’ve heard you talk. I would yield all of the space to just have you talk about the ways in which Hurston has been part of your artistic legacy. And indeed, as I heard you talk about like stories of theft and loss right, the kind of disorientation that happened in industries or in institutional spaces. I certainly think of how Hurston herself struggled in navigating the structures for studying. Here was Hurston this person who, as Professor Barnes was saying right, who just really had a generosity of being interested in Black life and wanted to be amongst it as well as to study it. And I love the way in which Merchet really highlighted Hurston’s kind of field breaking contribution and yet was alienated by the institutionality. Who was really deprived of the kind of support and resources that she should have had?
And so, I just, in hearing both of you talk, I see already a residence of Hurston and then Professor Womack. Just the last thing you said about Hurston’s methodological practice, right? That. I think that resonates so much with the place that I understand Hurston holding in my own scholarly life and my life in general, which is thinking about how should you go to negotiated ambivalence and a multiplicity. Maybe part of this is the self-determination that Riché talked about. That kind of complexity of the right to complexity of self that Hurston just assumed, regardless of if the world was willing to assert that for someone who is Black and female, and from the American South. So, if I’m thinking with Hurston’s How It Feels to Be Colored Me. If I’m thinking with her Characteristics of Negro Expression. Those were two iconic essays or Of Mules and Men, or the kind of three iconic biographies, Robert Hemingway’s and Deborah Plants work, which is actually both a philosophical study and a biography, and Valerie Boyd’s. I think about Hurston’s ambivalence where ambivalence isn’t a negative thing. I think about Hurston gifting us the right to feel multiple about what it is to study Black life.
And in that regard, I think about how Hurston navigated the tension of wanting to honor the past of Black cultural production, but also was determined to remind us that it’s not past. It’s still here, it’s still evolving. I see that as part of what one could call a kind of practice of critical ambivalence. Hurston was excited about studying and gathering and recording, and she was also reluctant in what those practices meant. Because she knew that those practices of capture were in fact—that they undermine the kind of vitality of the very expressive cultures that she was engaged in. Hurston was determined to protect Black folk material against the violence is of white encroachment. And she also wanted to not have that anxiety about white encroachment shape every single way in which she understood the vitality Black culture. It is her “ambivalence.” If we maybe put scare quotes around ambivalence. Her capacity to want to stay with and be in the multiplicity and richness of the thing that I find really compelling. And like I said, in some ways I’m mostly just drawing and summarizing from what Candice and Riché and Autumn have said so far. Yeah, but I—Hurston’s ambivalence, that’s a place I go to often.
[00:39:42] RB: Can I say something real quick about [laughter]? I love to. I love listening to you talk about things, Kevin. So, this is a treat for me too. Just the way you synthesize things and then build on them, right? So, I’m really excited about the way that you’re using ambivalence and it makes me think about the women that were in my study and how I talk about their ambivalence about their relationships to the Black community, to motherhood, to career, to even their mothers, right, and then having this sense of responsibility that is so, so deeply entrenched in Black, southern womanhood, right. And so, one of the things that you talked about when you were talking about how Hurston was so, you know, she kind of lived in this multiplicity and did the thing of honor and the thing of recognizing. And I always appreciate the fact that she also critiqued. Right. She also critiqued the Black community, which was, you know, part of the downfall of her relationship to the Black Literary—I’m not gonna use it, [laughter] not going to use the word [laughter].
[00:41:17] KQ: We can just say establishment.
[00:41:19] RB: Yes, yes, the establishment. Yes, there we go. You know, that was part of what made it so hard for them to appreciate. You know, they were ambivalent about her, she was ambivalent about them. And but also critical, right. And that is another thing that I love about her, that she loved the blackness so deeply that she could also say, “We, you know, we are challenged by these things.” I also love that she used, I think the way that you talked about that juxtaposition of being kind of, you know, saying we’re not gonna be encroached upon by whiteness. But there’s this flipside too of having to navigate it in some ways, that means that we are being encroached upon. And her use of that too right, it’s so complicated, especially for us as ethnographers and anthropologists. That her use of a white philanthropists, the complexity of having to often, you know, report on what they were asking for so that she could get to the stuff that she wanted to do. Uhm, there’s just so much there and what you just said and in the way that ambivalence just kind of. I mean I totally agree with you in that ambivalence could be the way that you could always come back to Zora Neale Hurston over and over again. Even as we think of her in the contemporary moment and thinking about one of the questions that Alyssa and Alyssa have brought to us in terms of like the creation of a public image. And how she has no control over that. How she’s been captured by different people and groups and disciplines, and her likeness is, you know, all over the place now. Which is again good and bad, right? Ambivalence. So, I’ll stop there.
[00:43:52] BT: I didn’t want to jump ahead it. I saw someone had their hand up, so I want to make sure they leave space for that before I give a comment. Candice, did you have your hand up?
[00:44:06] CH: I was trying to throw a heart up during some of those things. That didn’t work out for me, so then I put my hand down [laughter]. ‘Cause I agree so much with the everything that was said. I can just say as a case, as an object lesson in living with Zora and Loving Zora, the reason I called upon Zora a couple years ago when I wrote that song was I was so angry that I kind of wanted to leave the industry. And then I realized, when my idea was taken by this presenter, I created a program that—well, I’ll just give you this example of her reach. Her magical reach in my life as an artist. And so I created a program. It was about, and I did it at Bard. It was quite well loved and critiqued, you know, said it was a knockout or something like that. I was a knockout. That’s what it said. So, then the impresario of the festival—I think it was very much driven by my idea and my presence and that caused a conflict. The program itself was about how jazz came to Paris. And so, it was in French and English and I’m singing in French and in English, and he said that I wasn’t French enough and he replaced me in my own program with a white French woman. And at first, it was so devastating ’cause I had worked so hard, and I felt so closely identified with this story because it’s my history. And it’s also my present in defining what my work is like and having it reflect my very most intimate experience of moving into spaces as a Black woman and doing my music.
And I thought, why? Why always the temptation to steal this from me and rob me of it when I’m willingly opening my life to the world. And oof, it’s hard. I don’t even. But thank you. I thank you for having this podcast, because how, who would I talk about this with except for y’all? So, I went to Zora. I went to Dr. Cheryl Wall—rest in peace and power to Dr. Cheryl Wall—who lifted me up with her scholarship on that day. And I was reading about godmother and how she paid Zora for her research in [unclear], South Carolina with a car and a camera but retained ownership of the work itself. The research itself. And I said, my God, this is a—then my mind went to the Zora place of like getting out of the construct of time and generational context. And I said this is where I need to engage in that. This one little character who’s trying to take this and that. It’s reductive. If he puts a white woman where I was standing, it’s reductive already. So, my work remains untouched. And so, it is very much. But the ambivalence was the way that the external world was affecting me, the commodification and white privilege, and just the way I, it’s like Zora, it’s my livelihood. And like all of you scholars writing about these things that white people don’t wanna hear and don’t wanna remember. Um or learn? You know it’s yeah, it’s very much active in my day to day and sometimes some wonderful things happen such that this song came out, you know, two years ago and here I am with you talking about one song.
But I can tell you this, I knew exactly what I was doing when I made this song. I knew that the song had layers in it and facets and in the same way that a Zora work does, I aspired to that in my piece. And I made a video during the pandemic right during the protest. Which was, you know, with the pandemic and no income and I made that on like about $700 total. But as she was the first non-silent filmmaker, Black woman in 1928, it was very important that I documented, expressed my film through that medium. Maybe my song rather through the medium of film, or at least aspire to it. The moon thing, obviously is this. It’s this reaching. So, we’re all reaching. I don’t worry about too much being reductive in my reference to her, because actually I mean, my story goes back further. My college, I was a sociology major, African American studies minor. I was Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the important historian who influenced me greatly. My first anthology of Black women history was hers. I was her research assistant in college and my thesis was interviewing Black girls age 13 to 15 in Area Four, in Cambridge, about images of body and sexuality. So, I’ve always been interested, without knowing why, in those methods and they’re Zora methods for me. So, all that’s to say I was trying to put a heart on the [laughter].
[00:50:04] BT: Yes, thank you so much for sharing just all of that and allowing us to learn more about the context of the video and the context of the song. And also, you know, you know you got sound good when people try to steal it, but you know, they try to replace you, but your work, your voice, your presence is irreplaceable. I mean and that is something that I hope you feel affirmed in every day. I wanted to kind of think with what you all have shared thus far about Zora, her legacy, and kind of tie together some threads that I’ve been thinking too in my own work. Thinking about how we use images of Black women especially those that are being that are deceased, right? How do we think about them? How do we carry their legacy? How do we how do we talk about them? And I think in my opinion, right, that Zora actually embodies something. Or the memory of her, right. Her legacy actually embodies something that I think some Black people actually really desire, which is this kind of visibility, right. This kind of, like touch to money. We talked about those white philanthropists. That money, right, this access to institutions and things that’s kind of visibility. Right. That actually comes with a sense of opaqueness, right? We actually, as Riché said, right, we don’t really know when Zora was born, but I believe that she was a Capricorn Queen, which is part of her approach to this opaqueness. Right. If you know any Capricorns, you know, it’s very hard to know them truly. But I like what you said Dr. Quashie about this kind of this right of complexity of self. Right. So, Zora kind of models this, but I think for a lot of Black people we find that to be impossible, right. We kind of have a—The thing about living as a Black person right is there’s this sense that people know you right. There’s this sense that this person, this impresario, I think you said right. “Oh, we know you. We know your work. You’re just not good enough. So, we’re going to replace you.” Right. And that’s only possible because you are a Black woman. Right. If you were, I would argue if you were a Black cis man, people would see you as someone who was not replaceable in that place.
[00:52:33] CH: Not that to mention—that is exactly right. And also, the very point I was making was about crossing borders. This is not about just me. This is Josephine Baker did that. I mean, Eartha Kitt did that. I understood that he, his agenda is just—and I think that was why Zora always, if I had to—When I glean inspiration, I think she always was reentering, even when the relationships and the money was thin. Um and many artists that inspire me, Billie Holiday, I could speak many names, Josephine Baker as I just said, is that you know that there are those people their agendas are different than mine. So of course, they’re not gonna. That’s why I have. That’s why we’re just distinct. But at the same time, how powerful to convene this way and I wanted to put something farther out way. To me sound and music is beyond any presenter or institution or any of these things that we spend time in. But we’re, you know, we’re not of them. We’re of something more cosmic than this. We’re just, these are just places we pass through. This togetherness of us is what’s eternal. And yes so, but of course, you know, we’re not meant to just be these impenetrable things. The tenderness of it. That’s why I did want to dance and skate with my shadow and be apart from the procession in that video because there is a—it’s a tender negotiation, I think. Especially the closer, you know, it comes to being an artist. I wonder that about her, about how it felt for her, you know.
[00:54:36] BT: Yeah, and I think. Thank you for saying that, because I think that also kind of leads me to my next—I don’t know to call it comment, provocation, whatever, whatever. But I do think that because she was a Black woman, right, it kind of lends us a claim to an interiority as people who read her, people who love her. We can say yes, we know that she experienced an ambivalence. Right. And we can see that as evidenced by the letters that she left behind, the works that she wrote for us, right, the conversations that she had with folks that were documented. But there’s still this sense that she is unknowable, right. There’s still this sense that Zora is kind of, one floats around. Which again I attribute to, you know, Capricorn Queen-ness and this kind of way that Capricorns tend to escape being known. But I wonder for all of you, as you think about your work. And I want to sit with the term that Dr. Quashie gave to us like this kind of critical ambivalence. Which I think Zora modeled that for us very well. I wonder as we move toward a time that is much more urgent and thinking about Black self-determination and Black liberation and Black life, right, and embracing those things, how we as scholars, we, as children of Zora’s, right, can think about this tension or this critical end difference in our own work? So, if you all would like to speak on your work and how that kind of shows up for you if it shows up for you, right? Do you even see yourself speaking to white audiences? I’m thinking about Candice, your comment. I don’t see myself writing to white people right. When I write it’s, I mean, yeah, if they read it, they read it like, that’s on them. Right. But my work is for Black women and girls. My work is for Black queer and trans people. It’s for Black liberation. And I’m not concerned about whether white people want to get on board with that or not, because I know if they do, that means, well, honestly, to me, that’s the end of their power and privilege. Right. So, most white people won’t be on board for that. But I see Zora as a figure who thinks about her presence in the world as kind of this political presence, right, in some ways. I just would love to hear about you all on your own work and thinking with tension or critical ambivalence within your own.
[00:57:23] CH: I think that the part of the story that I captured through her own voice of that she was, you know, retelling from Dust Tracks on a Road. Well, when she was about seven because it was like chapter four that she writes that story and she must have been about seven because it’s before she talks about dreaming on the porch and having this sense from beyond of what tribulations will come later in her life. It’s the most, it’s from the more innocent time before the fractures in her family. And I imagine and I think also growing up from myself with Jamaican parents, where there was always a reference of a more Afrocentric place from their, you know, their consciousness and imagination that lived inside of our house. That wasn’t the nation that we were living in. For me, I think about Eatonville, and I think about how she was able to dream that dream because she was somewhat, uh, you know, in some context a set apart from the white gaze in this utopic city. And I even wonder what was that like? You know, even if you go to Eatonville now, it’s not what that was for her and especially at seven.
And I think also being a mom, my ten-year-old daughter is right here doing her homework. I think a lot about the power of imagination and like that particular time. And even Alyssa like I was thinking you’re a PhD student now with the vision that you have for yourself. I remember myself when I was an undergraduate when I first got to a college campus, and I think that it was for me it was quite a salve that I had this Black women history seminar that was like a sister circle, you know. I didn’t go to Spelman. Great Spelman, you know. It’s like, where can we think these thoughts and where can we get to the point where we’re some kind of, you know, wonderful PhD who can? It’s that. It’s those vulnerable times that I worry about. You know, as we’re all talking about with the Supreme Court, the activity in the Supreme Court, you know, impeding on our bodily, you know, wellness and self-determination. These earlier times, I would like to stay connected to those. Yeah. I do think I do write for Black people. I’m aware that I often work in white places and spaces, so there’s that. And like Zora, I wanna work for my whole life as an artist. So, yeah. I do. I do go back to those girlhood imaginings to make sure that I keep a fullness to my work.
[01:00:39] BT: I love that groundedness in girlhood. I have something else to say, but I’m not gonna let the two Geminis talk, because we will talk the entire time. I would love to hear from you all. What are you thinking about the critical ambivalence or tensions in your own work, your audiences? Communities that you see yourself accountable to, who can call up Dr. Womack, Dr. Quashie, Dr. Riché like, “hey, something you wrote, it’s got me feeling some kind of way.” I would love to hear that.
[01:01:18] AW: I mean, you caught me at probably the wrong time to answer this question ’cause. I’m finishing my tenure file. It’s due in like a week, so, there’s, you know, so it’s like, you know, you can’t tune everybody out, but you want to. I think that, you know, it’s interesting. I think about this question and I’m grateful for the phrase critical ambivalence. I think it’s so spot on and it captures so much. I thought of it when you first mentioned it in relation to that last line of “How it Feels to Be Colored Me” when she was like, who knows? And it’s like really like an open—like I take that really seriously as an open question and kind of an articulation of that ambivalence maybe. But you know, I think about this a lot because most of us in this, at least who are spotlighted, like, have an institutional home, right? And so are somehow and in some way committed ambivalently or not to the idea of the institution. Even as we always realize its limits in what it can’t afford and actually that its narrow vision is precisely what allows us to kind of imagine and think in the way that we do right. But there is, we all still are doing it right? Um, so that is something that I often, I spend a lot of time thinking about and I don’t have an answer to it, but just that I think that that’s kind of the major embodiment of that. Maybe that’s the site of the critical ambivalence, right? Even in my classrooms, as I’m always like, you know, really inviting students to interrogate their own expectations and affiliations and desires for what the university will for them. We’re all still there in that space, right? We’re not like, this is not, you know, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s Undercommons, right? Like we are in the classroom at Princeton, in my case. But I, you know, I don’t know if I have more to say on it than that, but just that I do think it’s just, maybe it’s just an unanswerable question. Or maybe the answer is like, who knows and maybe that who knows, is just what we keep kind of moving with and thinking through. Yeah, I’ll leave it there.
[01:03:43] RB: I think something that Alyssa said a little while ago about, and I can’t remember what you said it was in relation to but it jumped out at me. And it was, you said something about good enough and I don’t remember—do you remember what you were saying about that?
[01:04:02] BT: No.
[01:04:03] RB: I understand [laughter]. But I think the space of my critical ambivalence, and how it affects my work is in this notion “good enough,” right. And it’s not, I don’t wanna evoke—what’s the popular phrasing now? Um, oh goodness, I hear young people say it all the time. Impostor syndrome. I’m not invoking—
[01:04:47] BT: I don’t know what young people talk about.
[01:04:48] RB: [Laughter] Well, when I say young people, young in relation to me [laughter]. But uh yeah, I don’t mean to. I don’t mean it that way. I mean, actual, actual good, actual good enough. And I mean it in the sense of the ways in which our communities, our internal to the Black community and external, often are making us, particularly Black women and Black femmes feel like we’re not good enough in lots of different ways. And there’s always this, you know, there’s this. And I would see it. And I think look to Zora Neale Hurston for some ways to navigate it because there’s this—and you just talked about it too Candice. There’s this need to. You must do the thing that you were put here to do. You must. But you will encounter feelings of not good enough at that thing that you were put here to do. And there is this space of needing to shut out that noise while also having to be responsive to it in some ways right. To present as if good enough, be good enough, but also be in resistance to the idea that one needs to be good enough. And I mean, I think even what you just said Autumn, when you started, of needing to, you know, this might not be the best time to talk to me about this because I just turned in this file that is going to determine whether or not I am good enough. Not that I want to put those words in your mouth, ’cause you might not be navigating that.
But I do think that it’s something that comes up for us if we’re being honest and puts us in a position of ambivalence. Of needing to shut that out, but also knowing that you’re constantly taking it in no matter what you want, no matter how much you don’t want to. I’ve been thinking a lot since you all invited us to this space about Valerie Boyd and the fact that she wrote this beautiful work and pretty much dedicated her life to really not only uncovering the life of Zora Neale Hurston, but also creating, I think, the spaces that she felt Zora Neale Hurstonwould have wanted and benefited from and wanted to share with other young writers if she had had the opportunity and been seen as good enough to continue her studies, to finish her PhD, to be in the academy if she wanted to be, and continue to do her work without feeling as if, you know, at any moment the rug could be ripped from under her for completing the work.
She was always trying to get more money to do her work, to do the thing that she was put on this earth to do. And at every turn there was somebody from our communities, from those communities outside our own, saying, “No, you gotta do it this way or you gotta do it this way or you’ve got to talk about it in this way or he’s got to present it in this way.” And I just think about that. You know, how we’re still dealing with all of that and how much of it takes. Taking it back to Valerie Boyd, how much of a toll it takes on our bodies, on our systems, on our mental health, on our spirits. Alyssa, I’m so glad that you have been talking about spirit and signs. There was a time in my life when I would have been like, “what is this girl talking about?” [Laughter] Oh, because we were expected as scholars to separate ourselves from that. That spiritual connection that is so necessary. And so, yeah, I feel like now I’m rambling and I’m going to stop there.
[01:10:06] CH: I totally agree. I’m so glad you said that too Alyssa. I like that you say it because it reminds me of the wondering. I mean, there’s a wondering that is why we started writing, all of us, right. So, I love it.
[01:10:22] RB: So true, Candice, because I started as a young person, not planning to be an anthropologist ’cause I didn’t know what it was [laughter]. But I wanted to be a writer. I was a creative. And I think that there’s so many ways in which this voice of not being good enough works to stifle creativity as well.
[01:10:45] AW: I think the other thing that that reminds me of is like that the not good enough, I think, is also actually or can also be a question of this like asymmetry or disconnect between what your idea is in the language that you’re writing in and kind of its so-called illegibility right to outside public, right. So, I think like that’s the tension. I think like that’s like the Hurston of it all, right? Like how do I? How do I or do I care if my work is intelligible to the folks that are actually seemingly valuing it or paying for it, right? Am I actually interested in that and how do I negotiate that? So, I feel like that question of translatability or non-translatability or kind of the rupture between what you think the writing should be and then actually what it looks like on the page? It’s actually this thing that you’re talking about, Alyssa also, when you say, like, I’m not writing for a white audience. Like it’s less about like, I don’t want white people to read my book and more about, like I’m not actually interested. Or maybe not, but this is how I think about it. It’s about reconciling the fact that the terms in which I’m thinking about blackness and aesthetics and all of these things might not actually be the language that people are expecting or wanting or can make sense of. And I think that that’s a really, you know, important way to think about kind of the not good enough too, aa seemingly not intelligible enough.
[01:12:26] BT: And I think—I’m so sorry. Am I interrupting you?
[01:12:31] KQ: No, no, go ahead.
[01:12:33] BT: I was gonna say, yeah, I’m thinking with all of these different kinds of, in my head is like these three different kinds of stars or poles or [unclear] that you all have been talking about and thinking about this kind of translatability and intelligibility, but also this kind of this tension with interiority, right. And so, in particular, thinking about how as Black people, right, there is this demand that we must be known in some way. And that knowing is connected to surveilling our bodies or it’s connecting to controlling us, right? And how we as Black scholars, as Black artists, as Black people move through this world and think about how we resist that and maybe critical ambivalence is a way for us to be, to sit with our own interiority and think about all these different things. And—hm, what was I gonna say to that? I think I’m really sitting with your comment Autumn, in particular, thinking about yeah, the relationship to the academy and how the academy also has this demand of us to be known, right. Like we must be known. We must. I suppose even your tenure file, right, you have the detail how you’re a teacher, why you teach, the way you do things like that. I mean I that’s what I read up on when I was trying to figure out if this is the path for me. Right.
And I think about how we are put in these social positions, where that’s kind of like, I don’t know, we’re to pushed to do that. And I see Zora as a model of kind of sitting or jumping between the two, of here I’m going to maintain this kind of privacy or I’m gonna tell you something about somebody else, right. I’m gonna write about Hoodoo practices, but I’m not gonna tell you about how I participate in Hoodoo, right. I’m just gonna write a couple sentences saying I did a ceremony. But that’s the extent of how you know about me and my involvement in it, you know. Or I’m gonna tell you I had a conversation with someone in Eatonville, but I’m not gonna tell you the ins and outs of that. I’m just gonna tell you how it felt to be in conversation with them. And I see that kind of, I see that as a method I actually talked about earlier on. Like this kind of like method that doing Black work in the academy that allows for us to retain some kind of autonomy without having to be subjected to the violence. Really white supremacy, that requires us to always be objects of observation. So that’s it. That’s all I’m gonna say. I’m gonna pass it on to you, Dr. Quashie.
[01:15:15] KQ: I’m thinking back, Candice, I know people said this in the chat. I just wanna say thank you for sharing that difficult and terrible story. And shout out to your young person doing homework right next to you. One thing that maybe I wanna make sure, I think everyone in as people talked about ambivalence, I wanna make sure that ambivalence is not ambiguity, right. Ambivalence in its, as clearly as I understand it denotatively, means at least two registers, right? And so, I think just to be clear, because I think sometimes and I don’t feel as if it’s been misheard here, but I want to be clear that ambivalence is not ambiguity. So, Candice, as you were telling that, that really difficult story. And Alyssa, you engage and responded to Candice, one of the things I loved and heard is, Candice, you returned to the idea of the cosmicness of your art. And there was this way in which, between you and Alyssa, I at least heard this sense of something that I think of as very Hurstonian. Which is, what does it mean to try to pursue, and achieve, or describe, or create, or enact, or theorize the universal through the particularity of a Black female subject, Black female thinker, Black female artist?
And I want to be clear. This is not the universal as in that terminology that would too so define being that it excludes most people from being and destroys the capacity that most people have actually be. I mean that sense of the way in which Candice, I hear you using the moon, making gesture to Hurston’s own sense of the cosmic. Snd Hurston’s essays, especially in essay like “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” really is asking. what does it mean for me to think and study the ideas of being alive and the ideas of the world through my me-ness it’s very Sula from Morrison’s work. Very Audre Lorde especially if we think of Lorde in The Cancer Journals. Very Lucille Clifton, if you think of Clifton’s poetic inhabitants. And so, I really. There is something about that. About Hurston’s investment in a universality through the particularity of Black femaleness. And in some ways Alyssa, it becomes unsustainable, because of what that anthology title tells us all the women are white, all the Blacks are men, but some of us are brave. So that there’s a way in which Black women thinkers, I hope people notice I’m reluctant ever to talk about any people because like, I don’t wanna say “there’s a language Black women,” because to say that for me there’s nothing that could be said about Black women because each Black woman in and of themselves is a world unknowable unto themselves.
And so, part of the tension, Alyssa, that I love, that you’re reminding us of is the way in which to even talk about some of these ideas sometimes puts us in the discursive bind of making a thing object. So, there are ways in which I think some Black women, thinkers and artists, right? So here I’m talking about their practice and their ideas and their expressive and philosophical contributions. Really are trying to figure out how to say, well, we get to also think these ideas through the particularities of what we know, understand, experience, perceive in the world. I think that’s part of the legacy of Hurston and I love the exchange, the way in which Alyssa and other people too. But Alyssa, as you were engaging Candice that there was this way in which this thing became clear. And maybe one other quick thing. I would say there is also a moment of hearing Riché, in your response take, reminding us that in a way Herston would say, “What is your work? How do you do your work?”
And so, the question of audience, Autumn, you’ve just glossed beautifully, right, the ways in which many of us, especially in the academy, but many of us in the world, are always navigating between. Spaces of hostility and maybe spaces of decent neutrality. Right. And what we need is the cause of the division as much as possible coming back to the compass that says what is my work? How can I get to doing it and doing it as well and as kindly and as ethically as possible? At least when I read Hurston, that’s what I sense Hurston trying to do. That sense of trying to figure out how do I study, and record, and present, and think with, and argue with these histories, these expressive practices in the way that I think is best to do it. It may not be the best way, but in a way that I think is best to do it. And again, you know, I’m gonna repeat myself just listening to you all, my colleagues, talking thing is really I would, I would, I would just stay here mic muted and just be grateful for this continuation of this exchange of ideas.
[01:21:33] AJ: Truly, I am just. I’m also just sitting here like, “yeah so, I should probably say something.” But I’m so interested, I think I’m going to be thinking about some of the things that we’ve talked about for definitely a few days, it’s not a long time. Candice just posted this, to ask this really interesting question. How do each of you ascribed to a department engage with the label so often ascribed to Hurston as interdisciplinary? Does that label work well for you? And she’s thinking with this ambivalence as well. And yes, I will leave it open and see what you all think.
[01:22:31] AW: I love that question. Thank you so much. It’s so good. I want to like teach with this question all the time now. The first thing that popped into my mind is—and maybe this is the first time it’s coming to me. Interdisciplinarity has always like bugged me, even though I use it to describe. I’m like I’m organically interdisciplinary, like you know. But I think it’s because this just occurred to me, so thank you again for the question. It’s still like codifies the disciplines, right? It still relies upon the idea that the disciplines are these discrete, circumscribed entities that are housed in different departments and that the innovation comes in, you know, drawing imagined, often precarious lines of connection across and between them. And I think something that, I think is more interesting and that Hurston I think actually is always doing is kind of working in spite of, or outside of, or redefining those very terms. So, like an adisciplinarity, right?
So, it’s actually not about regulation or control in that sense of the discipline or about the institutionalization of knowledge and a value system which is the other kind of institutionality and in terms of the university or the school. But actually about, like pointing out kind of the futility of those categories in those values systems while still doing a different kind of work, or methodology, or practice. Like she would still be doing the kind of work she would be doing, even if—it doesn’t need to be called anthropology, right, in order for her to do that like that kind of work. I say we keep going back to, “How it Feels to Be Colored, Me” but an essay like “How it Feels to Be Colored, Me” it’s kind of—it exists on its own and does the same kind of work, even if we don’t think about it as you know, performance theory and whatever else. So, I think it’s, you’re just helping me to think through why I always bristle at that term even as I readily summon it to describe the kind of work. And also like at that time period the disciplines were like kind of up for grabs and they weren’t the same as we think of them now, right? So, I think it’s tricky to call her that when they was all kind of a mess.
[01:25:02] CH: When you wanna understand her power, I always think of the bag of marbles at the end of the essay.
[01:25:07] AW: Yeah.
[01:25:11] CH: Yeah, I don’t have a word, I just [sigh].
[01:25:13] AW: On the shards of glass.
[01:25:15] CH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[01:25:18] CH: It it’s evocative of a lot of things at the same time, especially why we do what we’re doing. Each of us. That’s all I could say. The bag of marbles. I mean, I just and the sense, what I wanted to say, what also in this moment why I spoke is the sense of play. It also told me something when I read that. I think that was the first piece of Hurston I ever got. And ending with a bag of marbles. When I was so self-conscious about everything and wanting to be an artist. Sitting at Harvard and wanting to be an artist, and still there’s no Black women. There’s like one or two Black women from the college after all these decades who were full-time artists. Most of us just weren’t going to do that. So many loans, so many family members, so many reasons. I have guilt sometimes. Anyway, a bag of marbles, though. She always, you know, gives us something, a space and. Anyway, I just had to say that I had to throw that image out.
[01:26:35] AJ: I just wanted to go back to what you were saying, Dr. Womack, but she knows she didn’t need to be in anthropologist to do the kind of work that she did. And I think, you know one of the moments going on right now that broadest to even doing this panel was this kind of or is this what we’re seeing now this recognition of Zora Neale Hurston and in anthropology? And really anthropologists saying she wasn’t anthropologist; she was a folklorist and those kinds of things actually influenced her literary work. The research that she did is what influenced her literary work. I think about in Their Eyes Were Watching God, she talks about the, she writes I think it’s Jeannie that says there may be places out in the ocean where Black people are in power. Which you know, reference to Haiti where she did some field work. So, I think that question of interdisciplinarity kind of breaks apart when you start talking about. Zora Neal Hurston, because she did what she wanted, and she did everything. She did a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and she kind of just made her. She made Hurston studies. I don’t know [laughter].
[01:28:11] RB: I think she was better. I think she was super interested in how to tell Black stories, how to tell Black diasporic studies, and wanted to do that however she could do it. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what tools. I think Autumn spoke to that with the use of the term adisciplinarity. But I don’t I think. I think she would just be all frustrated with us trying to put her in any of these boxes. And I will say as it pertains to my work as an anthropologist and whether or not I feel any sort of sense of interdisciplinarity. I mean, definitely I feel like I’ve, you know, I’ve followed her in the sense that I want to do Black studies and I want to do it however I can do it. I found anthropology or ethnography, the methodologies of anthropology to be the way I needed to do Black studies. And so, I claim her as an anthropologist because I need her to be recognized as having done that work that was not being done and needed to be done in a way that was loving and caring at a time when few were loving and caring towards Black folk, right. Which is very important to you Zora Neale Hurston’s work. So yeah, that’s. But I don’t think. I wouldn’t. I mean, I know we say that she’s interdisciplinary because she’s using, you know, pulling from all these different disciplinary ways of doing work. But I think it falls flat in the same way that that Autumn was talking about and just doesn’t. It doesn’t. I mean she won’t be in a box, even if that box is supposed to be expensive [laughter].
[01:30:53] KQ: There’s a bit of lovely brilliance I think Riché, in the very first line you used. She wanted to tell Black stories. And as a person who I don’t mind the way in which I kind of disciplinary specificity, literary studies for example, has encouraged me too. Like, I love paying attention to the way in which Hurston had such skillfulness across various genres that you read the opening of Their Eyes Are Watching God, “ships at the distance carry every man’s wish on board,” and then she goes on to talk about the women and the way in which the women’s vision doesn’t need to be on the ship, that it manifests somewhere else. She’s invoking in any number of ways. She might be invoking thinking about the transatlantic slave trade. She’s also invoking a kind of rhetorical tradition of the Odyssey. Well, the odyssey as a journey, but also the odyssey in particular as a literary work.
And so, her skillfulness in genres like plays and the sonic work and visual work and spiritual rituals and interviews and fiction and nonfiction and dance. I’m grateful to appreciate her multi-genre-ness, and I love what Riché said. Which I think might be the way to think about what she was trying to do. Which was to try and tell Black stories and needed all those genres to tell Black stories. I’m not interested in being an advocate for literary studies, whether it’s a particular English department or for anything in the academy. What is my work? My work is to try to pursue the questions that help me try to live and manifest of decent life and disciplinarity is not part of my work. Even if I’m like, I hear Riché saying, even if I’m drawing from disciplinary, what is my work? What I’ve learned from Black women thinkers, but in particular from Hurston, is be clear about your work and then try to do it. Grab whatever you need to grab to try to help you do your work. As well as you can.
[01:33:15] BT: Period.
[01:33:17] AJ: Endpoint, period.
[01:33:20] BT: I think, yeah. There is a way in which—or not a way, I think the way. Whatever you wanna say, whatever you wanna use. Whatever. There is no way to study Black life without being adisciplinary. That’s what I’m saying. And I think that so much about Blackness, Black people, escapes definition, escapes capture, even as it is captured. And that kind of paradox really hits me at times when I think about being an anthropologist. I think about how literally parts of me literally recoil on thinking about the discipline and its history in the ways that I, as a Black, queer woman am called into it. And prop it up. Like my presence, right, actually continues the discipline. And so, I don’t really introduce myself as an anthropologist because of that.
I think there is something that you all have just been saying about the way to study Black life for requires us to grab at all of these different methodologies, all of these different tools. And I think that that helps bring value to the academy. But also, like what value you should be there. We have ten minutes left, nine minutes now, so we wanted to open up to if there are any audience questions? We’re so sorry. We don’t really give y’all enough time to ask questions. But if we have one or two questions, we will take those and we will say goodbye to our lovely panelists. But this has just really been such a joy and a pleasure to sit and listen to you all and learn with you also, yes. Do we have any questions from the audience? I did not receive any personally, so Alyssa did you receive any?
[01:35:27] AJ: now we don’t have any in the Q and A. As well, I think it’s just. Yeah, people have just been listening and enjoying, really appreciating. I certainly know that I was.
[01:35:43] BT: I wonder too. Because I also about like how Black studies can’t even really be a way to study Black people. And I know that can be kind of a touchy subject, right? How even the discipline Black studies, as an interdisciplinary discipline, right doesn’t really have—is not really expensive enough in my opinion, to really capture or talk about all of Black experience, right? With different debates on how we would discuss Black queer people, how we discuss Black trans people, how we talk about Black women, Black children within Black studies. So, I think this is—Zora serves as a model to think about how do we have all of those different conversations without investments in disciplines, in departments, in places that really serve as emblems of power. Yeah, I think that’s all I have to say. We are really just thrilled—
[01:36:48] AJ: I just wanted to say I just think that focus on your work is—focus on your work, focus on what it is that you wanna do is a wonderful way to kind of sum up the conversation that we’ve had here. I know that it’s something that Alyssa and I talk about. Which is we’re focused on what it is that we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get out of this degree as PhD students. And we hope that others do the same. Do the same. What is your work and focus on it. So, yes. So, just to wrap up, we’re just so thrilled to have all of you here, these four scholars, Zora Enthusiasts here to discuss Hurston how she’s been taken up in this moment and what that signals. Alyssa and I, we’re super, super, super happy. Delighted that everyone we asked to be a part of the round table actually agreed to participate. So, thank you so much. It’s really allowed us to have this conversation where we have people coming from the text, and the visual, and the sonic, and the cosmic we got into, and the ethnographic. And I learned so much about, you know, generative engagement and producing ideas in community. I think the critical ambivalence, I’m sure we’ll all be thinking about that. So, thank you all so much.
[01:38:19] BT: And I wanna thank you for bringing all of your brilliance, your shine, to this conversation up. I just always get happy to have conversations with other Black people about Black shit, but anyway we would like to thank Columbia Anthropology and University Life for sponsoring this event. And I personally would like to thank Alyssa for all of her labor and coordinating, sending emails, pulling shit together, pulling Zoom together. Thank you so much for your labor. And so, I just wanted to [claps hands] clap, clap, clap. Thank you. Doing all this while you’re also in Martinique, so truly appreciative. If you are new to Zora’s Daughters, right? It is a podcast. We would love to have you listen and be in contact with us. You can find out more information about the podcast at zorasdaughters.com and you can also follow us on Instagram @zorasdaughters and on Twitter @zoras_daughters. And last but not least, I hope that we all hold each other and ourselves in our hearts, and that we remember that we have to take care of ourselves and each other during this time.
[End of Recording]