Image: Speakers featured in this week's Conversation, a webinar on Afrofuturism.
Welcome to Week 2 of the ZORA! Festival 2020-2021 Afrofuturism Course!
Please begin by reviewing About the Course for an introduction and orientation to the 2020-2021 Afrofuturism Syllabus, which bridges the organizing themes of the first two years of the five-year Afrofuturism Conference Cycle: "What is Afrofuturism?" and "What is the Sound of Afrofuturism?"
Note: Each week the course coordinator will release new content related to the conference themes. Content posted here will remain publicly accessible and may be incorporated into other courses, in part or in full, via links to this site. Suggested citation: French, Scot. Syllabus for ZORA! Festival Afrofuturism Course, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fall 2020-Spring 2021. STARS, https://stars.library.ucf.edu/afrofuturism_syllabus_about/.
In the Conversations segment we share resources featuring participants in the 2020-2021 ZORA! Festival Afrofuturism Conference.
This week’s featured Conversation, hosted by the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts & Humanities, is a Webinar on Afrofuturism: A Guide Amidst Tumultuous Times.
You can find the webinar here.
In a scholarly dialogue recorded October 8, 2020, Dr. Julian Chambliss (Michigan State University) and Dr. Phillip Cunningham (Wake Forest University) discuss their co-curated exhibition at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts in Eatonville entitled "A Past Unremembered: The Transformative Legacy of the Black Speculative Imagination."
Moderated by Trent Tomengo (Seminole State College), this webinar conversation addresses a range of questions, such as: What is Afrofuturism? What is its historical legacy in the black speculative tradition? And what are the implications of its usage in a contemporary climate of anti-black sentiment and black social protest and unrest?
The conversation lasts about 45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q & A. Webinar link: "Webinar on Afrofuturism: A Guide Amidst Tumultuous Times." Webinar production support: Maria Ferguson, Full Sail University, and Jason Gregory, University of Central Florida. Courtesy of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.) and Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts & Humanities. All rights reserved.
"A Past Unremembered: The Transformative Legacy of the Black Speculative Imagination" is on display at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, 344 East Kennedy Blvd., Eatonville.
In the Explorations segment we pose a series of questions for further investigation and class discussion, based on the featured Conversation. After you have watched the webinar, here are some Afrofuturism-themed questions to reflect upon:
The exhibit that Dr. Chambliss and Dr. Cunningham co-curated is entitled "A Past Unremembered: The Transformative Legacy of the Black Speculative Imagination." It focuses on how African American writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries imagined a better, freer, more equitable future for Black people -- here or, perhaps, elsewhere. Is Afrofuturist literature utopian, by definition? Do any of the Afrofuturist writers featured in the exhibit express pessimism? Despair?
How does Afrofuturism literature align with Afrofuturist politics? To quote the moderator, Trent Tomengo: "Is this [Black speculative literature] within the realm of magical realism or wishful thinking, or is there a political element attached to it in which it involves action at the time?"
The exhibit focuses exclusively on writers and literary works. But, as Dr. Chambliss states: "You can make an argument that there is a Black Speculative Tradition that is completely oral. It's singing, it's music. And oratory is really important for black people visioning the future, acting on the future." Likewise, Dr. Cunningham notes that 19th century audiences heard the sound of Afrofuturism "in the speeches of Frederick Douglass, before anything was put down on paper." How can we imagine/recover the sound of Afrofuturism before the advent of modern recording technologies? Do the fiction and non-fiction works of Zora Neale Hurston present us with a method? A guide?
What is Afrofuturism’s appeal in this historical moment -- a time of great political and social unrest, heightened by the coronavirus pandemic? Can Afrofuturist literature serve as a guide through troubled times? How would the curators answer this question?
Note: The exhibit, "A Past Unremembered: The Transformative Legacy of the Black Speculative Imagination," is currently on display at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, 344 E. Kennedy Blvd., Eatonvville. It will remain on display, with a companion discography, through December 2021.
Authors and works referenced in the webinar Conversation include:
- Mark Dery, a cultural critic and early observer of cyberculture who is credited with coining the term "Afrofuturism" in 1994. Dery famously defined Afrofuturism as "speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture." See his essay, "Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose," in Dery, ed., Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture (1994).
- Dr. Alondra Nelson, an influential Black scholar of race, technology, and society whose broadly diasporic, less time-bound definition of Afrofuturism has supplanted Dery's among leading scholars and theorists. In a widely quoted 2010 interview with KCET, Dr. Nelson offered this definition of Afrofuturism: "It's a way of looking at the world ... a sort of canopy for thinking about Black diasporic artistic production ... an epistemology that is really about thinking about the future, thinking about the subject position of Black people and about how that is both alienating and about alienation." Dr. Nelson edited "Afrofuturism," a special issue of Social Text (2002), "drawing together contributions from scholars and artists who were members of a synonymous online community she established in 1998." See her essay, "Future Texts," from that issue.
- Martin R. Delany’s Blake; or, The Huts of America (1859-1862)
- W.E.B. DuBois's short story, "The Comet," in Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920)
- W.E.B. DuBois's novel, Dark Princess: A Romance (1928)
- Roger Sherman Tracy's novel, The White Man's Burden: A Satirical Forecast (1915)
- George S. Schuyler's novel, Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Works of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D., 1933-1940 (1931)
- George S. Schuyler's novel, Black Empire (1936)
Thank you for joining us! Next week: An interview with Dr. Isiah Lavender III, Sterling Goodman Professor of English, University of Georgia.
Resources from 2020
Webinar on Afrofuturism: A Guide Amidst Tumultuous Times, Julian Chambliss, Trent Tomengo, and Phillip Cunningham