Zora Neale Hurston could be resource to historians studying African Americans, Tiffany Ruby Patterson to make the case on Nov. 4 at Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ñ Literature by Zora Neale Hurston and others can make a vital contribution to historians wishing to learn about those long misrepresented by traditional records, argues a historian who will speak at Vanderbilt University.

Tiffany Ruby Patterson, a history professor and undergraduate director of the Department of Africana Studies at Binghamton University, will speak at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, in Room 218 of Calhoun Hall on the Vanderbilt campus. The lecture, "Between Home and Horror: Zora Neale Hurston and the History of Southern Life," is free and open to the public and is based on Patterson’s upcoming book.

The lecture is the third in the Smoke, Lilies and Jade Lecture Series sponsored by The Program in African American Studies at Vanderbilt.

"I am arguing that literature needs to be coupled with traditional sources to capture worlds that have been erased by many factors and can only be retrieved by using these works to find traces of those worlds," Patterson said.

Hurston (1891-1960), best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, was a contemporary of writers such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. She focused on the African-American cultural experience but wrote less than other black writers about oppression by whites. She sometimes had controversial political views, such as opposing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that outlawed segregation in schools.

Her work has influenced Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker and other contemporary writers.

"Unlike her detractors, who study black people in relation to whites, Hurston sought, first and foremost, to study black people on their own terms," Patterson said. "Although she recognized oppression as a daily fact of African-American life, Hurston’s literary and ethnographic work focused more on what black people were doing for themselves than on what their oppressors and tormentors were doing to them.

"This contrarian gaze moved black people to the center of inquiryÖa place reserved for white people in the dominant race-relations paradigm in African-American history and thought."

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

Explore Story Topics