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Zora Neale Hurston's work reconsidered April 19

A professor from the University of Pennsylvania will visit campus April 19 to examine how writer Zora Neale Hurston’s work can be used to look at black life today.

Deborah Thomas, the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, will discuss “What Zora Neale Hurston Gives Black Studies: Tell My Horse, Imperial Politics and Everyday Love” at 4:30 p.m. at the Africana Studies and Research Center.

“Students should be excited to engage with Professor Thomas’ talk because she will touch on under-explored aspects of Zora Neale Hurston’s work,” said Oneka LaBennett, associate professor of Africana studies. “People are more familiar with Hurston’s contributions to African-American women’s literature, but as an anthropologist, Professor Thomas will engage Hurston’s anthropology and travel writing in the Caribbean.”

Thomas will discuss “Tell My Horse,” a firsthand account based on Hurston’s experiences in Haiti and Jamaica. Thomas will examine how the book fits into broader interests among Americans, especially African-Americans, in the Caribbean region.

“Hurston demonstrated innovative genius across numerous genres – fiction writing, playwriting, ethnography and folklore – she mastered them all and more,” LaBennett said, “Hurston did this while also advancing African diaspora studies with her pioneering fieldwork in the Caribbean and Central America.”

Thomas is the author of several books, including “Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica” and “Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica.” She is co-editor of the volume “Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness,” and is editor-in-chief of American Anthropologist.

Thomas has also directed a film, “Bad Friday,” about the violent discrimination Rastafarians experienced at the hands of the Jamaican government.

“The talk will help students to apply Hurston’s work in the Caribbean region to their understandings of black life today,” LaBennett said.

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Jeff Tyson