Scholar’s Symposium Spring 2021: Zora Neale Hurston and Beyoncé 

By Aubrianna Gholar 

On Thursday, March 11 on Zoom,  the communication and writing departments at The University of Tampa joined together for the Scholar’s Symposium Spring 2021 featuring Professor Kinitra Brooks. The lecture was organized by UT professors Dr. Lauro, Dr. Menzies and Dr. Tillman. There were a total of 120 attendees in the Zoom. 

Due to Covid-19 this was the first symposium of the school semester. “The scholar symposium is an opportunity for UT to host scholars in a variety of different topics and subjects to introduce our students to new thoughts and concepts they haven’t had before,” said Dr. Menzies.  

Dr. Brooks is the Leslie Endowed chair of Literary Studies in the English department at Michigan State University. She specializes in black women studies, genre fiction and popular culture. She also writes a weekly column for The Root called “The Safe Negro Guide to Lovecraft Country.” 

The title of this lecture is “From Mambo Zora to King B: Placing Beyonce in Zora Neale Hurston’s Legacy of Conjure Feminism” and it focuses on “ Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy of Black women’s spirituality and how Beyoncé wrestles with that inheritance in her audiovisual works.” 

The lecture was broken down into three parts: Define Conjure Feminism, Zora Neale Hurston as a Central Philosopher of Conjure Feminism and Placing Beyoncé’s Lemonade in Hurston’s Conjure Woman Legacy

Dr. Brooks defines Conjure Feminism as “… a liberation cosmology that is centered in black southern women’s knowledge of folkloric practices, gardening, rootwork, and spirit work. It is grounded in the veneration of and communication with the ancestors.” 

Previous black scholars have emphasised the importance of “the kitchen table”  in passing down black women’s knowledge. Conjure feminism takes these metaphors to build upon the “backyard” and  “garden” idea of natural herbs being used for cooking and healing then being passed on as recipes for alternative medicine. 

Dr. Brooks then provided context between Zora Neale Hurston, a philosopher, and Beyoncé. Hurston learned the practices of Hoodoo and became what we refer to as an influencer today. She was known as a conjure woman. 

Conjure women were categorized as social outcasts due to being economic powerhouses and their ability to both help, through healing, and harm people. 

Beyoncé sought out information about the past women in her family and their ties to spirituality. Her album Lemonade was a result of her findings. Dr. Brooks views Lemonade as a “neo-blues narrative and manifestation of conjuring that is heavily grounded in traditional West and Central African religious practices.”

At Beyonce’s concerts during her Lemonade tour she revived the idea of african diasporic Orisha/Lwa through heer attire. In her music videos for Lemonade Beyonce displays healing powers through spiritual work. 

Beyoncé sings, “I plug my menses with pages from the good book.”

Dr. Brooks explains the lyrics as Beyonce’s way of using simplistic christianity to invoke a bigger discussion of what Beyonce was taught was wrong and demonic as a child potentially not being demonic but related to black spirituality. 

“I’ve heard the term Mambo before, but never knew just what it was or how sacred and important it was to th Haitian Vodou religion,” said Savanna Perry,  junior communication major. “This presentation was very educational, and I can’t wait to continue learning about these different cultures, so I can be a more well rounded and educated person.”

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