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Kristal Brent Zook

Kristal Brent Zook

Investigative Journalist

Biography

Kristal Brent Zook, Ph.D. is a professor of journalism at Hofstra University in New York. Her entertainment, cultural, and social justice journalism have appeared in dozens of publications, including Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Life, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, Essence, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, and elsewhere. She lives in Miami and New York. She is a former contributor to NPR and has appeared on a wide variety of radio and television outlets such as CNN, C-Span, MSNBC, Fox, TV-One, and MTV. Read More >

Dr. Zook is the author of four books: Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television, Black Women’s Lives: Stories of Pain and Power, I See Black People: The Rise and Fall of African American-Owned Television and Radio, and her forthcoming family memoir, The Girl in the Yellow Poncho, to be published by Duke University Press in 2023.

Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television (Oxford University Press 1999) has been mandatory reading in several college courses and was cited in May 2016 issues of both The New York Times Sunday Magazine and The New Yorker. Dr. Zook also appears discussing the book in the 2017 CNN documentary special The Nineties.

Black Women’s Lives: Stories of Power and Pain (Nation Books 2006) vividly illustrates pressing social issues involving education, health, prisons, and culture, through the stories of ten women from all walks of life. This book expands, in part, upon several award-winning articles written for Essence magazine.

I See Black People: The Rise and Fall of African American-Owned Television and Radio (Nation Books 2008) was considered for a 2009 NAACP Image Award and has been required reading in university curricula.

Dr. Zook received her Ph.D. in History of Consciousness from the University of California Santa Cruz. Before coming to Hofstra, she taught African American Studies, Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies, and Journalism, at institutions such as UCLA, Murdoch University in Western Australia, and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Read Less ^

Speech Topics

The Exploding Multiracial Youth Population

The multiracial college population has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. Zook has spoken on the issue of biracial identity for a very long time, and as a college professor, she has also watched as mixed-race student groups have swelled with this incredible demographic shift in the American population. Read More >

More than nine million Americans now describe themselves as being of more than one race. In at least ten states, 25 percent of youth are multiracial and this population is expected to grow by nearly 200 percent in the coming decades. One in six newly married couples is interracial and their children are growing at a rate three times as fast as the general population, with 25 million multiracial babies born each year—making multiracial youth the fastest growing population in the country. Given these numbers, there’s a real hunger for voices like mine who can speak to these shifting identities.

Zook's family memoir The Girl in the Yellow Poncho is a coming-of-age tale about being biracial, grappling with in-betweenness, a father’s abandonment, childhood sexual assault by a neighbor, and a family history with multiple generations of addiction. It grapples with being biracial in the 1970s and 1980s, in an era when being biracial was still something strange. Back then, interracial couples were completely absent from television, film, or advertising. This is a story of healing, and a little girl who grows up to be a feminist and social activist. It’s about a struggling journalist who sets out on an inner journey to confront childhood traumas and insecurities.

In 2019, Zook was commissioned to write a six-part series of articles on multiracial identity, looking at this topic from various angles. She included a scientific perspective on how the brain processes mixed-race faces; the topic’s portrayal in culture on the popular sitcom, “Mixed-ish”; and how university officials and students are grappling with this issue on college campuses, to name just a few of the articles. Read Less ^

Race in Hollywood

As a cultural reporter, Zook has written about racial representation in film, television, and music for more than 25 years, covering topics ranging from black television shows like Living Single, Roc, Martin, and South Central for the LA Weekly and The Village Voice, to the sexuality of Lil’ Kim for The Washington Post, and the films of director Ava DuVernay for Essence magazine. Over the past decades, Zook has interviewed dozens of producers, directors and writers and have watched as the industry has transformed and transitioned, while wrestling with issues like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo and struggling to diversify itself behind the camera. Her reporting and this talk focus on what these trends look like from the inside, through the eyes of those artists and executives who are successfully telling stories about people of color as seen through their own creative lens. Read More >

Most recently, Zook wrote about The Woman King, starring and executive produced by Viola Davis, the unprecedented first film of its kind, which told the story of the so-called Amazon warriors, the Agojie of the African Kingdom of Dahomey. In another recent piece for Vanity Fair, she covered the politics of production behind Queen Sugar, a series unlike any other ever aired on television. In this talk, Zook takes audiences on a whirlwind tour of TV shows and films, highlighting some of the most important historic struggles along the way, and what was once impossible in film and television. This talk paints a colorful picture of how far creative voices of color have come in the industry, and how far they still have yet to go today. Read Less ^

Racial Issues in Higher Education

In the summer of 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police and supporters of #BlackLivesMatter, of all races, creeds, and colors, expanded across the country and the world. What is less known by the public, however, is that 2020 was also the year that #BlackInTheIvory exploded onto Twitter, along with maybe a dozen other similar hashtags featuring academics, professors, graduate students, scientists, and medical professionals speaking out about the isolation and racism that they had experienced within the academy. The issues they documented for the first time in such a comprehensive way, via social media, go deep, as we saw in these movements, with common themes emerging—familiar to those of us in the trenches, but strange and surprising to those who had no idea what was happening on their own campuses. Read More >

There was everything from the (now, well-documented) gender and racial biases on student evaluations, to the over-policing of black bodies on campuses, which included, for example, the arrest of a sleeping student at Harvard University’s library, to the unwanted touching of black hair in every setting, from classrooms to faculty meetings. Zook wrote about these issues and the #BlackInTheIvory movement, as well as her own experiences in a Ph.D. program at the University of California Santa Cruz, in “How Black Lives Matter Came to the Academy,” which was published by The New Yorker. Read Less ^

Books & Media

Books

I See Black People