Fall 2012

Fall 2012

 

ALICIA HALL MORAN '95

Vocalizing has always been an important part of Alicia Hall Moran’s self-expression. As a newborn in the maternity ward, Moran was known as “Lungs.” As a child, she enjoyed performing concerts and musicals for her family. As a Barnard student, Moran majored in music. Now a seasoned mezzo-soprano, she recently completed a run on Broadway in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Why did she pursue music as her art form? Without question, she says, music chose her.

An opportunity in high school took Moran’s musical education to the next level, when she applied and was accepted to the summer Tanglewood Institute. It was also in high school that Moran decided she wanted to attend the best college in New York City, one where her intellect would be taken seriously. Barnard was the obvious choice. “I didn’t understand it then, but Barnard gave me an ability to question anything and everything with freedom and responsibility,” she says. “You need to know how to do that to sustain yourself as a woman, as an artist, as a mother, as a citizen.” Moran majored in music with a concentration in anthropology. After Barnard, she attended the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) where she earned a bachelor’s in music; Lynn Owen, her Barnard voice teacher who also taught at MSM, helped Moran get admitted. Because she had already received a full education in theory and music history at Barnard, Moran took courses at MSM in such areas as composition, acting, and dance.

This comprehensive training is evident in her résumé, which lists a range of creative endeavors from the traditional to the experimental. In addition to The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Moran was a 2012 Biennial Artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art, curating and performing BLEED, a five-day music and arts festival that surveyed the musical landscape of Moran and her husband, Jason, an accomplished musician and the artistic advisor for jazz at The Kennedy Center. The event brought together artists, practitioners, and ideas that have been key to the couple’s thoughts about music. “It was time to turn the private partnership inside out and let the art world see inside our mechanism,” says Moran.

She planned much of BLEED while living in Cambridge, Mass., working on The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess premiere while her husband was in New York City. Moran found herself shaping many of the project’s ideas, including its title. “Then it hit me,” she says. “My dream had come true. I was planning a major spectacle for an American art museum. I could do whatever I wanted.” The performances of BLEED blended genres, formats, and media and took on a number of themes. Moran would perform two or three concerts at BLEED then jump into a cab to make curtain for her Broadway performances. “It was truly the most invigorating week of my artistic life,” she says.

It was through another project that Moran was first considered for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. She was performing in Alicia Hall Moran + the motown project, an operatic cabaret featuring Japanese taiko drums, harp, guitar, and bass, with Motown songs sung in operatic style performed at the prestigious Regattabar, a jazz club in Cambridge, among other venues. Producer Diane Borger, with Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, learned of Moran’s performance, met her after a show, and sent her name to the casting agency; several months later, she auditioned for and was quickly offered the part of Ensemble/Bess Understudy.
Collaboration, which she uses as a means of exploration to enhance her artistic growth, is evident in much of Moran’s work. Moran is currently the musical director on visual artist Adam Pendleton’s opera in development for Performa 13, a biennial of new visual-art performance. Moran enjoys working alone as well. “Art is solitary and I love that,” she says. Moran spends a lot of time each day speaking and writing. Does she have a dream role?  “Michelle Obama,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s been written yet.”

—by Stephanie Shestakow '98
—Photograph by Phumzile Sojola

RELEASES

NEW & UPCOMING

FICTION

THE MAN ON THE THIRD FLOOR
by Anne Bernays ’52
The Permanent Press, 2012, $26

TWO-PART INVENTIONS
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz ’59
Counterpoint, 2012, $25
 
RISK OF CHANGE
by Kathleen Collins ’52
Spinsters Ink, 2012, $15.95
 
THE ORPHAN MASTER
by Jean Zimmerman, ’79
Viking, 2012, $27.95

 

YOUNG READERS

I SURVIVED THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2001 (I SURVIVED, BOOK 6)
by Laursen Tarshis ’85
Scholastic Press, 2012, $16.99

THE CABALA OF THE ANIMALS
by Jane Simon ’64 and Jim Whiting (illustrations)
Createspace, 2012, $9.99

 

NONFICTION

BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
by Kathryn Finegan Clark ’56
Schiffer Books, 2012, $29.99

CITIZEN SOLDIER: A LIFE OF HARRY S. TRUMAN
by Aida D. Donald ’52
Basic Books, 2012, $25.99

CLEARLY, I DIDN’T THINK THIS THROUGH: THE STORY OF ONE TALL GIRL’S IMPULSIVE, ILL-CONCEIVED AND BORDERLINE IRRESPONSIBLE LIFE DECISIONS
by Anna Goldfarb ’00
Penguin, 2012, $15

JUNGLE FEVER: EXPLORING MADNESS AND MEDICINE IN TWENTIETH- CENTURY TROPICAL NARRATIVES
by Charlotte Rogers ’01
Vanderbilt University Press, 2012, $55

FASHIONING CHANGE: THE TROPE OF CLOTHING IN HIGH- AND LATE- MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
by Andrea Denny-Brown ’96
The Ohio State University Press, 2012, $59.95

 

FACULTY

WARLORDS: STRONG-ARM BROKERS IN WEAK STATES  
by Kimberly Marten, Professor of Political Science
Cornell University Press, 2012, $35

SINNING IN THE HEBREW BIBLE: HOW THE WORST STORIES SPEAK FOR ITS TRUTH
by Alan F. Segal (1945-2011)
Columbia University Press, 2012, $29.50

Complete listings at barnard.edu/magazine

TOBI TOBIAS '59

A self-taught dance critic whose first article on the subject was a piece for Barnard Magazine snared an impressive honor this spring when she was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. Tobi Bernstein Tobias was lauded for nearly a decade of work on ArtsJournal.com “that reveals passion as well as deep historical knowledge of dance, her well-expressed arguments coming from the heart as well as the head,” the Pulitzer board wrote.

The accolade was much appreciated but not dramatically life changing. “You write the way you write and you try to do your best and you try to grow,” she says. “It’s the day-to-day plugging away at it that makes for so-called success.” For Tobias, that meant spending more than two decades as New York magazine’s dance critic and writing regularly for Dance Magazine and The Village Voice.

Tobias’s Pulitzer honor was recognition of her keen insights about dancers, choreographers, and dance, says ArtsJournal founder and editor Douglas McLennan, who urged her to submit an entry in the criticism category. (McLennan was a Pulitzer Prize juror in 2011 and 2012, but recused himself from the deliberations for the 2012 criticism selection.) “Being a good critic is a very difficult mix of skills,” McLennan says. “Tobi is what I’d call a professional watcher. She has a great depth of experience and knows the art form very well. She has the historical context and perspective, and the ability to relate it to where the field has been.”

Enchanted as a youngster by a LIFE magazine photo of Diana Adams, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, Tobias asked her mother to take her to a performance. The company, then led by choreographer George Balanchine, was at its peak of artistic creativity. Tobias was hooked.

At Barnard, she studied English with a concentration in writing, and loitered in the hazy basement halls of the French department, where the professors smoked Gauloises cigarettes, “for the ostensible glamour.” Tobias earned a master’s degree from New York University in 1962, married, and had two children.

She became a professional dance writer in the early 1970s with a piece for Barnard about choreographer Twyla Tharp ’63. The article inspired Tobias to seek work from dance publications. Several gave her assignments; her new career blossomed. Her criticism and profiles of dancers and choreographers began appearing in New York magazine, where she became the dance critic for 22 years. In the 1980s, Tobias led a Barnard seminar on dance writing— “an unteachable thing, but I taught it,” she says.

An effective critic, Tobias says, “has to be good at seeing.” Critics must respond emotionally to art and decipher what an artist is trying to communicate. “Usually a dance critic goes to look at a dance and then tells readers, ‘this is what I saw,’” she says. “But what about what you thought or what you felt, or both? What was really going on? There’s a kind of dance criticism that is just a kind of note-taking about what went on, and that doesn’t fly.”

 
Throughout her career, her favorite interview subjects have included American Ballet Theatre dancer William Carter, whom she profiled for Dance. “He was just magical, a very, very pure soul,” Tobias says. The article took six months to write, “and it was worth every moment.” Another favorite was the Royal Danish Ballet’s Sorella Englund, who has “an amazing ability to reach into herself and be really thoughtful about her life” Tobias produced a massive oral history on the Royal Danish Ballet in 1979, one of the oldest and foremost ballet companies in the world; In 1992, Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II honored Tobias with knighthood for her efforts.
 
Tobias has also written more than 20 children’s books, which she began doing when she was a young mother reading to her children A few years ago, she branched out into writing what she calls “Personal Indulgences,” personal essays she writes for her ArtsJournal blog. One of her favorites is about how the spools of colored thread at Woolworth’s inspired her passion for the visual arts and, ultimately, her career. “A dozen shades of pink lined up in order of color saturation from the faintest blush to an almost psychedelic strawberry. A riot of reds, now veering toward a stinging orange... now surreptitiously creeping up on purple....” she wrote in 2007. “As with Diana Adams in the swan’s arabesque, that glorious, hardly believable image of the spools of thread stayed with me, shaping me as I grew.”
 
—by June D. Bell
 
 

 

The first generation of women who changed Wall Street 

Cultural anthropologist Melissa Fisher ’85 has always had an interest in women pioneers. As a girl, she would delight in her grandmother’s stories of being one of the few women attending the University of Pennsylvania law school in the 1920s. “The other students said they knew her by the click-clack of her high heels in the hallway,” says Fisher, a visiting scholar in the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis at New York University.

That image of a woman standing out in a man’s world inspired Fisher’s interest in the first generation of women working on Wall Street. In her new book, Wall Street Women (Duke University Press, 2012), she details stories from women who pioneered in professional finance in the 1960s and 1970s. They began as anomalies in a world dominated and populated almost entirely by men, and went on to positions of wealth and power. The stories are told in the women’s own words (all names were changed in the book and this article*) in a series of interviews that began in the 1990s, went on through the market meltdown of 2008, and concluded in late 2010 with a roundtable discussion among the women. They cracked the glass ceiling, making success in the financial industry a possibility for other women, and their influence still resonates. They also helped to feminize the market, according to Fisher, who believes, like many, that women provide a necessary balance, a long-term focus, and an aversion to risk that today’s market requires. Although the number of women on Wall Street has decreased in recent years, there are those market- watchers who believe a feminized market is a safer one for the average investor.

Wall Street Women began as a dissertation. While doing her post- graduate study in anthropology at Columbia in the mid-1990s, Fisher wanted a topic that would take a peek behind politics or economics to show the human workings. She was interested in women’s roles in finance, but met many of her subjects initially in the context of women’s politics. In one of her initial interviews with a prominent New York fundraiser, she learned about an interesting new political class—self- made women on Wall Street. Whereas upper-class New York women who married wealth tended to give to their husbands’ causes, these new donors were also wealthy, and motivated to support female candidates on both sides of the aisle. Fisher was fascinated and wanted to know more, “These women were in their 40s, all reasonably to extremely successful. Many were managing directors of their firms: How did they get there? What was it like for them to move up?”
 
Fisher was surprised to find that most of those she interviewed did not fit her initial assumptions. They were not, for the most part, brought up in privileged families with roots in finance. Many came from middle-class backgrounds. They did not did go to Ivy League colleges. (Many were not open
to women at the time.) Most attended small women’s colleges, and went on to get MBA degrees through night- school classes at New York University. They were not drawn to Wall Street by the promise of untold wealth; they just wanted careers. “When they went in, Wall Street wasn’t such a glamorous place,” says Fisher. “They wanted to be something more than secretaries. New York held promise, there was something beyond what they had.”
 
She was also surprised to find that the women were not fiercely competitive with one another. They may not have identified as feminists publicly, and they tended to keep their politics outside of the office until decades later. But, they had come of age during the time of The Feminine Mystique, and were influenced by the ongoing feminist debate. While their goal was to blend in, they were focused on supporting each other and helping each other succeed.
 
The women found ways to share information and opportunities early on, through membership in the Financial Women’s Association of New York, an organization initially begun in 1956 by eight women who were denied membership in the Young Men’s Investment Association. The group subscribes to a mission of fostering a community to support its members and promote their success. Their goal is to give women in finance a voice. By the mid-70s, the FWA had over 100 members. “I think a lot of closeness was born out of struggle,” recalls member Patricia Riley.* “You know in the ’70s, you were alone for so long—and then you found these people through the FWA.” Wall Street Women illustrates how completely different the financial world was then. In 1966, there were about 60 professional women on Wall Street. Most other women working in finance were in clerical or secretarial jobs. The secretaries wore hats and gloves to work, and were so tethered to their male bosses that there were light bulbs with their names next to them in the lavatory. If your bulb was lit, you needed to stop everything and run to your boss. Potential Merrill Lynch hires in 1972 were tested with questions such as, “When you meet a woman, what interests you most about her?” The correct answer—beauty. The fewest points were given for those who answered— intelligence.
 
The FWA became a place where women could share more than mutual respect; they could share tips to navigate this new world. “Relationships were important [as was] talking about what it meant to be a successful woman on Wall Street,” says Fisher. This included nitty-gritty things; for instance, what do you wear to a business meeting? Do you drink red wine or white? Do you laugh at a bad joke? Even the smallest misstep could lead to a career setback.
 
—by Melissa Phipps
—Photograph by Dustin Aksland 
 

 

Conversations in Contemporary art, a series of adventures— there can be no other word—into the New York art world began in fall 2011. This September a group of 14 alumnae and friends— up from the eight to 10 of previous series—launched the third round of five Conversations designed to give participants intimate access to this fascinating, always provocative, realm. Under the guidance and direction of Kathleen Madden ’92, an art historian, critic, curator, and author who initiates and manages the itineraries, the “conversationalists” visit galleries, studios, and museum exhibits; they meet and enjoy discussions with curators, gallerists, critics, and many times, the artists themselves. Participants not only enjoy the art, they learn how to ask questions about it and engage comfortably in discussions about the works. They also explore the multitudinous centers of art in the city, increasing their knowledge about the creation, exhibition, and sales of contemporary works. Madden always sends out extensive memos to the group members to prepare them for an upcoming session, then follows up the session with a review of what was seen, how provocative it is, and its significance in the scheme of today’s art world. These groups include collectors and those who might become collectors; most are women who would like to understand current forms of artistic expression.

With extensive contacts in the art world, Madden keeps the mix of locales, exhibits, and people varied and fresh. For each series, she provides the program of scheduled visits and a suggested reading list, along with a list of related magazines and periodicals (she has contributed to several), and Web sites to browse. According to Dorothy Denburg ’70, vice president of college relations, the variety of the programs and the access afforded by Madden have greatly contributed to the series’ ongoing success, with several repeat participants signing up. In supporting the effort and making the needed arrangements for the outings, “We were responding to what we know our alumnae enjoy and want to learn about,” adds Denburg whose office provides a menu of special programs and events for alumnae, with the promotional and creative assistance of Alumnae Affairs director Erin Fredrick ’01 and administrator Susan Cohn ’66.
 
The sessions are held on Thursdays; they begin at 10 a.m. and last for about two and one-half hours. While there is a one-time cost for each series of Conversations, if a participant is unable to attend a session, she may offer her place to someone else. This has been a boon for Anne Altchek ’79, an enthusiastic alumna who has signed up for all three series. She says, “When unable to attend because of travels or previous engagements, I have been able to [send]...friends of mine who are all very involved and knowledgeable in that field.” Altchek also gives high marks to Madden who leads the seminars in an “accessible and brilliant way...with a very down-to-earth and direct approach.”
 
The final session of spring 2012 was held at the New York gallery of Hauser & Wirth, which also maintains exhibit spaces in Zurich and London. California-born artist Matthew Day Jackson whose work encompasses many forms—sculpture, collage, painting, and photography, among others—organized the exhibit, “Science on the Back End.” Jackson spoke to the Barnard group about form, content, and the relationships between works from the artists he invited to be in the show. Insisting that he not be considered a curator, Jackson told
the audience that his intent was to explore the artists’ “larger creative impulse...the way in which each one of us processes and reorders our life experience into formal strategies, according to our personal priorities,” as he wrote in an essay about the exhibit. An off-the-cuff comment about one of the show’s works, Wheel, by Mark Ganzglass inspired the title. Wrote Jackson, “Science marks the frontier of the mysterious.... [Ganzglass’s wheel] embodies the similarities between art and science.”
 
The fall 2012 sessions include a diversified roster of venues that includes The Museum at Eldridge Street; a stop at the solo show of Erica Baum ’84 at Bureau; a new exhibition at the International Center of Photography; and a visit to the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Often, a session includes more than one venue.
 
The efforts of several alumnae went into the creation of Conversations in Contemporary Art. Longtime Barnard supporter and volunteer Diana Vagelos ’55, herself signing up for all three sessions, had attended some of Madden’s talks at Sotheby’s where she is a frequent guest lecturer. Discussing her experiences with Joan Snitzer, senior lecturer and director of Barnard’s visual arts program, Vagelos wondered about organizing some type of similar program for alumnae. Snitzer immediately told her that Madden was an alumna and would be perfect for a Barnard group; Snitzer continues to help facilitate contacts with artists and museums. 
 
Although a political science major at Barnard, Madden says she was always interested in art and “always enrolled in art classes.” Her Barnard degree was followed by a master’s degree in art history from Columbia and study at the University of Wales. Well traveled, she worked for a time with The Tate Modern and Phaidon Press in London and Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
 
Vagelos calls Conversations a “creative win-win” initiative, one that offers the continuing opportunity to learn, and, for the College, helps those connections among alumnae. “Some members of the group have had no previous contact with Barnard since graduation,” she says, and pausing for emphasis, adds, “This year there was so much interest generated for Barnard that we organized an art table for the College’s Annual Gala.”
 
—by Annette Kahn
—Art photos by Genevieve Hanson, courtesy of the artists and Hauser & Wirth
—Group photo by Dorothy Hong 
 
 

 

This past year Barnard students participating in study-abroad programs traversed six continents; several produced striking and informative visual documents of their experiences. The College’s See New abroad Photos (SNAP) competition recognizes these students by awarding prizes for outstanding photography. We feature some of the more remarkable entries that capture the drama of diverse places and people around the world.

SEVILLE, SPAIN

REALES ALCAZARES — ZINZ MODEl ’13

A Spanish minor who wanted to strengthen her skills in the language “while diving into a cultural experience in a traditional city,” Zina Model describes Seville, a millennia- old city and capital of the region of Andalucia, as “the heart of traditional Spain.” The city was founded by indigenous Iberian people, and passed through the hands of the Romans, Moors, and Castilian Catholic rulers Ferdinand and Isabella. Model loved learning about Andalucian and Sevillano customs and culture, living with a host family, and studying through a Council on International Educational Exchange program. She also took classes at the University of Seville. Captured in the royal palace of Seville, known as the Reales Alcazares, the photo portrays “a unique example of Moorish architecture,” says Model. The reflection of the interior structure emphasizes the soaring arches and the “richness of the colors.” She took the photograph during her first month in Seville, and it serves as a reminder of “how enamored [she] was—and still [is]— with the beauty of the city.”

AMPITILIANA, MADAGASCAR

MEVA SY IANTA — CASSANDRA STROUD ’12

Cassandra Stroud went to Madagascar on a study-abroad program with the School for International Training, a program that focuses on experiential learning for undergraduates in places like Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, among others. Each student went to a different village for a week where people spoke only Malagasy, a language unrelated to nearby African languages, but with closer ties to those spoken in the Phillipines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. “I went to Ampitiliana, a small village of fewer than 200 people,” says Stroud. “Taking pictures of the children was something fun to do that didn’t require language, and they were enchanted to see themselves on the digital camera screen. The kids would pose, mostly smiling, sometimes not. I would show them the picture afterwards, and we entertained ourselves like that for hours.”

VALLE DE LA MUERTE, ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

ANFITEATRO (AMPITHEATER) — ANJElAIS DIAZ ’13

Anjelais Diaz was ready to study abroad before she even knew she would be at Barnard. She also knew she would be going somewhere in Latin America to master Spanish, which she had been studying for years. Chile was an unexpected gift, with a culture, politics, and history that were unfamiliar and fascinating. She studied South American literature and Spanish in Valparaiso, a city near the capital of Santiago. On break in September, Diaz traveled to neighboring Peru, then back to Chile to the town of San Pedro de Atacama, where she experienced the last days of the nation’s Independence Day celebrations. She remembers flags hanging from every building and people performing the cueca, the national dance, in the center of town. Diaz ventured out into the desert on a tour and witnessed the stirring sight that is the subject of her photo. “When we passed the Anfiteatro,” she recalls, “this huge theatre-shaped wedge of bald, proud, bright-orange earth in the middle of the driest—and loveliest—desert in the world, the natural beauty of...Chile really came through to me.”

VALENCIA, SPAIN

VALENCIANOS PEQUENOS (lITTlE VAlENCIANS) — SEVAN GATSBY ’12 

Sevan Gatsby “has always had wanderlust” and was especially attracted to the rich cultural history and more relaxed pace of life in Spain. She traveled there initially in 2010 with Barnard Professor of History Jose Moya, where she found that Spain was “beyond anything” she had imagined. Gatsby chose Middlebury College’s study-abroad program for its focus on intensive language learning and immersion in the local culture. Although she selected Madrid as her home base for the semester, Gatsby was eager to explore beyond the country’s capital. Taken on a “spontaneous trip” to Valencia, a vibrant mix of old and new architecture, this photo records a moment during the festival of Fallas. The festival honors St. Joseph, “with processions and parades, copious amounts of sweet- smelling flowers” and ninots, painted puppets, throughout the streets. Each neighborhood displays its own traditional dress, worn by the children in Gatsby’s photo. Here, she explains, the boy had offered a sweet to the girl, who ultimately “scooted away” instead of accepting it. The “entire exchange was so brimming with innocence!” she says, “I just needed to capture it.”

HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

HA LONG BAY — RACHEL COLLENS ’13

Rachel Collens initially didn’t picture herself studying abroad because she was reluctant to leave Barnard for a semester. But the clear focus of the School for International Training International Honors Program, which takes a hands-on approach to studying urban issues, urged her to reconsider. The program took her from Detroit to Brazil to South Africa to Vietnam. Though she didn’t stay in any of the places for long, Collens felt well acquainted with each, thanks to her host families. The family in Hanoi encouraged her to make the trip to Ha Long Bay. She was struck by the shape of the mountains, a sight she knew “only from brush paintings.” Ha Long Bay is a magnet for both tourists and locals; visitors take in the beauty but also contribute to the pollution. Collens paddled a kayak onto the water, but could smell oil and was advised not to swim. Intending to show the beauty of the site while suggesting its pollution; she captured a moody, evocative setting, one that makes Ha Long Bay a must-see for travelers.

—by Natalie Korman

Zora Neale Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God at 75

Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.

—Alice Walker
In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens
 
 
Though not intended only as a description of her literary ancestor Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker’s definition of “womanist” in her 1983 volume of essays In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens more than aptly describes Hurston, the “foremother” whose rediscovery is the partial subject of the book. In one essay, “Zora Neale Hurston: A Cautionary Tale and a Partisan View,” Walker begins, “I became aware of my need of Zora Neale Hurston’s work some time before I knew her work existed.” This desire was first felt when Walker was just beginning her writing career, researching a short story set in the 1930s whose plot turned on the complexities of African American folklore—she was unable to locate a black “authority” on such folkways. The need came again, even more viscerally, when as a student in an African American literature class taught by a well-known black woman poet, all of the texts on the syllabus were by men. In both cases, Hurston had been mentioned casually, as an off-hand remark in the classroom and as a footnote in a textbook, belying the fact that she was the only trained black anthropologist of African American life and culture in 1930s America, as well as an award-winning writer known for the distinctiveness of her voice. These two incidents taught Walker that to be a creative black woman, from the time of Phillis Wheatley at least up until the 1980s, was too often to be in a state of frustrating uniqueness or invisibility. Dissatisfied with this lack of models, with the perceived absence of a black women’s literary tradition, Walker went searching for her “mother’s gardens” and found Zora Neale Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
 
Alice Walker’s rediscovery of Zora Neale Hurston was an act of personal and cultural salvation. In her effort to bring Hurston’s love of “the folk” and “herself,” back into print at a major press, Walker did excavation work on Hurston and other writers in order to “write all the things I should have been able to read.” Recovering Hurston and Their Eyes required Walker to visit many libraries, to fly to Florida, and to lie. In 1973, Walker set out to find out more about Hurston’s life by going to Eatonville, Florida, Hurston’s all- black hometown, the subject/setting of much of her work. In Eatonville, Walker discovered that Hurston’s last years in Florida were filled with hardships. The Great Depression and World War II were difficult times for black writers who had previously been supported by a combination of white patronage, philanthropic grants, and scholarships. Although Hurston wrote steadily and traveled even as her fortunes declined, she never garnered the same recognition she had in the 1920s.
 
Additionally, she struggled with changing racial mores both personally and politically. The author of five novels and 50 short stories, plays, and essays published during her lifetime, Hurston died in poverty near Eatonville, isolated from her family and most of her Harlem Renaissance-era friends. Her books were all out of print. Lying to local residents that she was Hurston’s niece in order to gain their trust, Walker journeyed to Florida to claim Hurston as an ancestor despite her troubles. In an act of veneration and appreciation, Walker paid the ultimate respect to Hurston on that trip—she located her unmarked grave in the snake-infested high grass of the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida, and placed a stone marker on it:
Zora Neale Hurston
‘A Genius of the South’
Novelist Folklorist Anthropologist
1901 – 1960
The placement of Hurston’s headstone and the story that Walker told of it in Ms. magazine in 1975 started a revolution in African American literature. The article, “Looking for Zora,” introduced Hurston to a new reading audience of black people and women just after or in the midst of the civil rights and women’s movements. Once passed around in photocopy by black women writers and academics in English-department hallways and at literature and black studies conferences, Their Eyes has now become a classic not just of the Harlem Renaissance, but of African American literature and literature in any language. First republished by small academic presses in the 1970s, Their Eyes and much of Hurston’s other work was issued by Harper Perennial in the 1990s. Hurston’s story of Janie Crawford, her struggle to love herself and believe in
the creation and telling of her own story, has inspired women everywhere to trust their own voices. Their Eyes is innovative in terms of its linguistic structure and told in Janie’s metaphor-rich, dynamic black vernacular—choices Hurston made to convey the complexity of black womanhood. As a literary ancestor, Their Eyes is a titan of a book; like its author, it is powerful, potent, more meaningful over time.
 
Walker’s pilgrimage inspired others to mine the archives, to search for the people and the work we all deserved to know. “Black Women’s Writing” courses now do not just begin with Hurston, but include women’s writing well before and after her time. Deservedly now a primary document of black women’s literature and history, Their Eyes, its author, and the story of their mutual disappearance and recovery, is, as Walker warned a “cautionary tale.” In the African American tradition, we’ve seen and sung about too many “motherless children.” At this 75th anniversary of the original publication of Their Eyes Were Watching God, let’s ensure that we nurture each other and the black literary tradition by giving everyone access to what Hurston claimed as the origin of her craft and an essential part of black culture—the ability to “say my say and sing my song” regardless.
 
—Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, used with permission granted by the Van Vechten Trust. Courtesy of the Barnard College archives.
—Illustration by Edel Rodriguez

What Hurston’s autobiography can and cannot tell us

This is a milestone period for Zora Neale Hurston ’28. September marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of her seminal novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Lippincott, 1937); 2013 would be her 85th reunion year. The milestone that may get only a mention, if not overlooked entirely, is the 70th anniversary this year of the publication of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (Lippincott, 1942). This synchronicity of events redirects attention to Hurston, her work, and her life as she revealed it rather than as we have been conditioned to read it.

Since the 1970s, research on Hurston has in large part been a challenging, albeit necessary, fact-finding mission—a search for quantifiable data to reinsert Hurston and her work into the literary canon. Dust Tracks has been combed through for factual information about Hurston’s life, but as journalist Esther Armah has said, “Facts don’t convey enough of what a (life) history has been.” Additionally, Debra Plant, in her book, Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spirit (Praeger, 2007) suggested that “the essential Zora defies knowing in any factual sense...the essence of life itself is ever the mystery.”
 
Somewhere between Hurston’s historical data and spiritual mystery is the whole woman. This Hurston, as revealed in her autobiography, must be examined “with a harp and a sword,” so that a comfortable master narrative about her does not marginalize those experiences about which she wrote that can affect a fuller understanding of her.
 
Hurston recounted that her memories, dreams, and reflections were indicative of “that geography within [her],” her inner psychological process. However, her insights with regard to her dreams and visions, intuition, and initiation into Vodou/hoodoo have been reduced to curiosities, outright fabrications, or discrete anthropological exercises. Honoring Hurston’s other ways of knowing requires, first, that we give them credence and, second, that we utilize other ways of knowing the texts that delve into her life experiences.
 
What radical shifts might occur if we approach Dust Tracks on a Road as a blank slate, detaching from existing conclusions about Hurston, and allowing the truth within the text to reveal itself? First, we might be freed of suspicion about Hurston’s story. W. E. B. DuBois described autobiography as “incomplete” and “unreliable.” Jung wrote about the “self-deception and downright lies” found in many autobiographical texts. Yet Hurston’s autobiography seems unduly criticized in this regard. For example, inaccuracies have been noted in the autobiographies of Langston Hughes and Malcolm X, yet these texts continue to be upheld as credible must-read accounts of the respective authors’ lives. Hurston’s account of her life should be similarly dignified.
 
Second, we might gain facility with symbolic meaning, taking the lead from Hurston who studied Jung, Einstein, Freud, and spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff. The 12 visions Hurston describes in Dust Tracks take on new and revelatory meaning when read for their unconscious symbolism rather than for their presumed literal or contrived correspondence to events in her life.
 
We might also recognize that Hurston did not avoid race in an attempt to accommodate a broader audience, as some criticisms suggest. Hurston’s African-centered posture expressed in Dust Tracks has not been thoroughly explored. There is a genealogical line Hurston intended to trace, via religion and cosmology, from Africans in America, through Haiti and Jamaica, and ultimately back to West African Yoruba and ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, her application for a 1934 Guggenheim Foundation grant to make the trip to Africa was declined.
 
Dust Tracks also exposes the inaccuracy of concluding that Hurston’s father was the prohibiting parent. Hurston relayed her mother’s encouragement to “jump at de sun,” but Hurston wrote much more about conflicting messages, unfair expectations, manipulations, traumatizing upheaval—also legacies from her mother—and the burden of carrying these experiences into adulthood. A new approach to re- reading Dust Tracks on a Road would radicalize our conversations about relationships with our mothers, daughters, and other women, as well as with men, patriarchy, and power.
 
Jung wrote that “each of us carries the torch of knowledge only part of the way, and none is immune against error.” In the aim to advance knowledge about Hurston, it may be difficult to re-enter that murky space of questioning what we thought we knew. Hurston herself knew the value hidden in this state of obscurity. We may seem to be staring at the dark, but our eyes are watching God.
 
—by Sharon D. Johnson '85
—Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, used with permission granted by the Van Vechten Trust. Courtesy of the Barnard College archives.
 
Sharon D. Johnson, PhD, has written and lectured nationally on Hurston, the arts, and depth psychology. Her previous article for Barnard was “Literary Lion,” a feature on Ntozake Shange ’70 (Winter 2011).
 

 

Sylvia Montero ’72 endows a scholarship in honor of her parents who supported her in school and in life

Sylvia Montero says her journey from a plantation shack in Puerto Rico to the position of highest ranking Latina at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer couldn’t have happened without two forces: Her parents and her time at Barnard. So when she had the opportunity to create a scholarship at her alma mater, she jumped at it: “I want to help another ‘Sylvia,’” she says. “Barnard changed my life.”

Montero, now 63, was born in Puerto Rico. Her parents, Eligia and Cruz, had elementary-level educations. Montero remembers a rural shack, big backyard garden, and lots of love in the home. But her parents wanted their children to have more opportunities than they did, so they moved to Nueva York, where relatives said there was more work available. Her father got a job in a factory and her mother stayed home to care for the children.

Neither parent spoke English, so they were unable to help the children with their homework, but both stressed the importance of education. Montero excelled at school and knew she wanted to attend college, but she never dreamed of Barnard. “The circumference of my life was defined by the surrounding blocks and the subway line to the Bronx that took us to see relatives,” she says. She applied to Barnard at the insistence of a high school guidance counselor. To her surprise, she received a full scholarship.

The trip meant taking three subway lines from her family’s apartment on the Lower East Side; it felt like a world away. “In school, my mind could get out of my neighborhood,” she says. She fondly recalls discussing politics and news between classes. “We talked about the dictatorships in Latin America, the Vietnam war,” she says. “They were discussions that were beyond my day-to-day experience.” Inside the classroom, she felt encouraged to speak up. As a result, she blossomed. “My sense of being a woman, my sense of self-esteem as a minority, grew immensely,” she says.

But Montero’s college experience was different than that of most of her peers in a few key ways: Instead of living on campus, she stayed on the Lower East Side. After her first year, she got married. The following year, she had a baby. She took spring term and the summer off to care for her son, then returned to Barnard. She remembers feeling anxious on her first trip back to campus, wondering if her grades would suffer because she’d been away. But an academic adviser put Montero’s mind at ease and ensured that she could pick up her studies right where she left off. Montero resolved to graduate from Barnard on time, taking extra classes and attending summer school to achieve her goal. A Spanish literature major, she found professors Margarita Ucelay and Mirella d’Ambrosio Servodidio ’55 to be inspiring role models during those challenging undergraduate years.

Her parents also continued to support her education. “My mom was amazing,” she says. “In the morning, I’d pack up my son, my school bag, and dirty clothes. I’d take those three bundles on the bus, and leave my son and the dirty clothes with my mom,” she says. When she returned from a long day on campus, her son was well cared for and her clothes were clean and pressed. “There’s no doubt in my siblings’ or my mind that my parents lived for their children, and they sacrificed a lot of potential pleasure for us,” affirms Montero.

Montero continued her education at Queens College, where she taught undergraduate courses. A year later, she got her first full-time job as a teacher. But just as things were looking up, her marriage fell apart and her parents moved back to Puerto Rico. Then she received a pink slip. Without a job or spouse—and with her son devastated over losing his grandparents—she made a quick decision: She and her son would move to Puerto Rico, too.

There, she quickly found a job teaching Spanish literature and language to non-native speakers. One of her students worked at a small pharmaceutical company, and helped Montero get work translating

personnel manuals from English to Spanish. She didn’t know it at the time, but that side job started her down a path to a career in human resources. Landing at Pfizer in 1978, she transferred to the firm’s New York office in 1982, and eventually rose through the ranks to become senior vice president of human resources.

When Montero retired from Pfizer in 2007, friends and colleagues encouraged her to write down her life story. The result is a book about the lessons she learned throughout her career and life: Make it Your Business: Dare to Climb the Ladder to Leadership was published last year by Front Row Press. Montero now spends her time volunteering, speaking about the book to various audiences, and playing with her grandchildren every weekend.

In Montero’s experience, a Barnard degree “continues to open doors.” She adds, “In a corporate environment, having Barnard on a résumé says that you were able to compete successfully in a very challenging environment, and those are qualities that senior executives are looking for.”

When approached about the scholarship, she didn’t hesitate. And she knew exactly what she’d name it: The Eligia and Cruz Montero Scholarship is Montero’s homage to her hard- working parents, who pushed her to succeed and supported her along the way. “You should have seen their eyes gleam when I told them,” she says. “They were so proud. My father was alive then and it was just wonderful to see his reaction.”

Montero says creating the scholarship was a win-win: She gets to honor her parents, who gave her and her siblings a love for education, and she helps another young woman blossom into a “Barnard girl”—a term she uses intentionally. Says Montero, “The only time I refer to myself as a girl anymore is to say I’m a Barnard girl.”

 

—by Niki Reading
—Photograph by Dorothy Hong 

Last Image

Vermont Countryside, 2010, pastel, 18x25 inches

Dana Levine '62