The nation’s oldest incorporated African American municipality is gearing up to honor its most famous resident in January, when Eatonville celebrates the life and work of 20th century writer, folklorist and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston.
“Zora! Festival” takes place the last week of every January in this Central Florida city. The nine-day event presents an impressive roster of arts, humanities and cultural programming, with museum exhibitions, public talks, panel discussions, workshops and concerts. It culminates with a three-day weekend Street Festival of the Arts.
Hurston, a noted author of the Harlem Renaissance movement during the 1920s, grew up in Eatonville and incorporated her life experiences into four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays and essays. Her most famous novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," was published in 1937.
Founded after the Civil War, when African Americans began establishing separate towns for blacks to avoid segregated white communities, Eatonville is marking 127 years as an incorporated African-American municipality in 2014.
Although born in Alabama, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville when she was 3. Her father later became mayor of the town. In her writings, Hurston glorified life there as a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society. She described the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me."
Hurston died in 1960. Her work was lost in obscurity for decades until author Alice Walker wrote an article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” in Ms. magazine in 1975. The reemergence of her work coincided with the rising popularity of authors such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Walker.
In the past, the festival celebrating Hurston’s life has featured such stars as the late Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Cicely Tyson, Danny Glover and Richard Roundtree; vocalists Al Jarreau and Jeffrey Osborne; writer Alice Walker; poets Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka and Ntozake Shange; and scholars Dr. John Hope Franklin and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Keep an eye out for the schedule at http://zorafestival.org