In a room encompassed by the minimalistic white walls of the UCF Art Gallery, urban historian Julian C. Chambliss offered a lecture titled “Zora Neale Hurston and Afrofuturism,” which was hosted by the College of Arts and Humanities in collaboration with The Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture.
CAH chose to showcase Hurston’s renowned novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, in honor of Hurston’s 125th birthday and the upcoming Zora! Festival 2016. Julian Chambliss, an award-winning scholar and associate professor of history at Rollins College, was one of the key speakers chosen to lecture for the series.
Chambliss traced different elements of black history ranging from abolition, the civil rights movement and the modern resurgence of “Black Power,” tying them all back to Afrofuturism, Zora Neale Hurston and the urban black narrative.
“Afrofuturism is generally described as the infusion of afro or African ideology through technology, culture and music,” Chambliss said. “It’s this sort of repositioning of those things through an African lens. It abandons the assumptions of the euro-centric approach and speaks more broadly to an African future.”
Chambliss went on to emphasize how blacks publicly struggle in America. He said that blacks should use their tools and imaginations – as highlighted by Afrofuturism – to overcome this sense of oppression that lingers.
In following the narrative and Hurston’s journey, Chambliss showed instances in which Eatonville was dubbed a so-called “Black Haven,” or the city “incorporated by colored people.”
“I want to put forth an idea that is important in relation to thinking about Zora Neale Hurston, and thinking about the black imagination,” Chambliss said. “My concern with Hurston extends and is rooted in a broader narrative of the black imaginary, and its implications for the popular mind.”
Students, faculty and colleagues came out to hear Chambliss’ discussion. N.Y. Nathiri, executive director of The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc., came to support her colleague.
Nathiri, a proponent of Hurston and her work, highlighted the impact that Hurston has had in the academic community. Nathiri also explained that, in the future, she sees blacks prospering, and the future getting brighter.
“We have demonstrated the ability to change society politically,” Nathiri said. “We have the ability to be an authentic global citizen.”
The UCF Art Gallery will continue hosting a series of lectures and performances revolving around Zora Neale Hurston and her work in celebration of the Zora! Festival 2016. Visit gallery.cah.ucf.edu for more information.
Shaquirah Jackson is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.