Afrofuturism at the Zora Festival

Academic Conference

Thursday - Friday, January 30 - 31

Theme: What is Afrofuturism?

The transformative success of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon calls our attention to the visionary scholarship and innovative practice at the heart of Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy. Hurston’s ability to see beyond the limitations imposed by white supremacy has long marked her as a leading figure who championed the centrality of black knowledge and action. The power of the black imagination and Hurston’s legacy of documenting it make her a foundational figure and calls our attention to the long legacy of the black imaginary that shapes the Afrofuturism we celebrate today. In the spirit of Hurston’s legacy and the vital conversations she continues to inspire, the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities has embarked on a five-year exploration (Festival 2020-2024) of meaning and praxis around Afrofuturism. From its inception, the term “Afrofuturism” followed a path championed by Hurston and other black scholars and artists that sought to call our attention to the vastness of black potentialities. Defined in 1994 by Mark Dery as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture,” Afrofuturism as a field of contemporary study has evolved. Recognizing its deeper roots, Professor Alondra Nelson has called our attention to how Afrofuturism is a “canopy for thinking about black diasporic artistic production” and urged us to consider how Afrofuturists allow us to think about the “subject position of black people” in the world.

The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.), presenter of the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities (ZORA! Festival), the Michigan State University Consortium for Critical Diversity in a Digital Age Research (CEDAR), and the University of Central Florida Center for Humanities and Digital Research (CHDR) invites scholars to submit papers and mediated projects for the ZORA! Academic Conference, January 30-31, 2020, on the theme of “What is Afrofuturism?” We welcome papers exploring the dynamic dimensions of Afrofuturism from theoretical and/or historical perspectives and will be especially attentive to work that considers past, present, and emerging scholarly investigations of the black speculative practice. Participants are encouraged to engage the literature and discourse of their respective fields; while, at the same time, they will present their findings in public forums accessible to academics in other disciplines, as well as being intellectually stimulating for a general audience.

Presentations will be limited to 15-20 minutes. Abstracts are due October 14th.

Abstracts can be submitted online via Google Forms. URL:

Information on conference venue and schedule will be available upon completion of submission review and participant notification. Questions about the ZORA! Festival academic conference can be directed to

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Black Imaginary

Afrofuturism has reached a moment in the popular mind, defined by the works as diverse as Ytasha Womack's  Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture to artistic project such as John Jennings and Stacy Robinson's Black Kirby. As I map out my Afrofuturism course for the Spring semester at MSU, I need to strike a balance between an accessible example and background scholarship for the undergrad. I love this tweet because my own thinking about Afrofuturism is linked to the idea of an African-American black imagination going back to the 19th century. What do figures like Harriet Tubman represent in the black imagination? How do they inspire fictive narratives that shape the collective reality for black and white Americans? Clearly, white southerners imagined the efforts of freedom fighters like Tubman in the darkest tones. The secret plotting that leads to revolt is one part of the southern nightmarescape.  Yet, the subjects that would do that are everywhere. The corrupting voices of someone like Tubman or Frederick Douglass become the thing whites must stop. This is one of the reason reading is forbidden. If slaves and read what the abolitionist writes the ideas will penetrate deeper and further, undermining the system.  At the end of the day, yes, I am taking this suggestion to heart.