Back / Black to the Future: Why the First Mother of Afrofuturism Matters
We’re digging back a few years to boost J.A. Jones excellent piece from the Weekly Challenger on Zora Neale Hurston and Afrofuturism. The original 2020 article promoted the Zora! Festival held annually in Eatonville, Florida. This month’s timing connects to a few cultural zeitgeists:
• The inaugural Tampa Bay Afrofuturism Festival (TBAFF) happens Nov. 11-13, 2022
• The Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever opens nationwide November 11, 2022
• Margaret Brown’s excellent documentary, Descendant is currently available on Netflix. The doc examines the implications of the discovery of last-known and illegal slave ship, Clotilda in Mobile Bay. Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon is based on her 1931 interviews the last living survivor of the Middle Passage, who was brought to the United States aboard the Clotilda. – Editor
Zora Neale Hurston died penniless in 1960 at the age of 69 and was buried in an unmarked grave, her genius forgotten, her books out of print. But today, Hurston holds a near-mythic stature.
Research by writer Alice Walker and others in the 1970s-80s renewed interest. And St. Petersburg native, Kristy Andersen made documentary about her life, Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun, in 2011. Each year since 1990, Florida’s Zora! Festival has celebrated Hurston as a vital and creative contributor to American historical culture. The festival began a five-year-cycle examining Hurston as the “mother” of Afrofuturism in 2020.
Afrofuturism describes cultural production – including science fiction, speculative fiction, film, art, fantasy, and technology – that reveals, expound upon, or interrogates how people of the African diaspora have found, and are finding, their “place” in the universe. This conversation will find no more apt progenitor to call “mother” than Hurston.
Hurston herself has recently become front-page news again, with the 2018 publication of Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,“ edited by retired USF Professor Deborah G. Plant, based on Hurston’s 1931 interviews with Oluale Kossula – renamed Cudjo Lewis – the last living survivor of the Middle Passage.