2023-2024 Events & Programs

Not Quite White in Fiction and Film: Laura Z. Hobson's Gentleman's Agreement and Nella Larsen's Passing

Gentleman's Agreement and Passing

Date: Monday, March 04, 2024

Time: 07:30pm - 09:00pm

Location: Trayes Hall, Douglass Student Center, 100 George Street, New Brunswick 08901 

The Abram Matlofsky Memorial Program, funded by the Karma Foundation

  • Donavan L. Ramon, Assistant Professor of African-American and English Literature, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
  • Rachel Gordan, Shorstein Professor of American Jewish Culture and Society, University of Florida
  • Gene Seymour (moderator), Film and Cultural Critic

Gentleman’s Agreement and Passing are critically-acclaimed novels on racial and ethnic passing that have also been adapted for the screen. The novels investigate how anti-Black racism and antisemitism have shaped the integration of Blacks and Jews into White Christian American society. Penned by women, both novels also explore issues of gender and social class.

Nella Larsen's Passing, published in 1929 during the Harlem Renaissance, was adapted for film in 2021 and stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Black friends who must confront the limits of their friendship and the color line when one is more successful than the other at “passing” as White.

Laura Z. Hobson's bestselling Gentleman's Agreement was originally published in 1946, shortly after World War II, in serial form in Cosmopolitan. In the 1947 Academy Award-winning film adaptation, Gregory Peck stars as a gentile reporter tasked with uncovering antisemitism. He soon discovers the depth of bigotry and hatred that exists in the United States.

Rachel Gordan and Donavan Ramon will discuss the novels and their adaptations to the screen in a panel moderated by film and cultural critic Gene Seymour. Excerpts from both films will be shown during the program.

NJCH wordmark BThis public program is presented in conjunction with the interdisciplinary symposium, “Black Americans, Jewish Americans: Historical Intersections, Collisions, and Passings,” and is made possible by a grant from the National Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment of the Humanities.





Donavan RamonDonavan L. Ramon is an assistant professor of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He was the Bildner Visiting Scholar at Rutgers in the fall semester 2023. A specialist in African American and African diasporic literatures, he teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in these fields. He has published articles on Philip Roth and Alice Dunbar-Nelson and, most recently, guest edited a special double issue of the South Atlantic Review on the ninetieth anniversary of Nella Larsen's Passing. His first book, Striking Features: Psychoanalysis and Racial Passing Narratives, was recently published by Mercer University Press. It explores the psychoanalytic motivations for jumping the color line in African American literature. 


Rachel GordanRachel Gordan is an assistant professor of religion and Jewish studies at the University of Florida, where she is the Shorstein Professor of American Jewish Culture and Society. Her first book, Postwar Stories: How Books Made Judaism American was published by Oxford University Press in February 2024 and was awarded a 2023 Jordan Schnitzer First Book Publication Award by the Association for Jewish Studies. As a scholar of American religion, she researches Judaism and Jewish culture from the early 20th century to the present, with a particular focus on the immediate post-World War II era, middlebrow culture, and American Jewish literary history.




Gene SeymourGene Seymour is a prominent film, jazz, and cultural critic. Currently a freelance writer, he has worked as a writer or reporter at several publications, including New York Newsday, Philadelphia Daily News, and the Hartford Courant. He has written for numerous additional publications as well, including the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly.






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