Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Zora Neale Hurston's Florida

photograph by Chip Litherland for The New York Times

Last week we mentioned the Florida Memory archive--a site that, in many places, is enriched by the imagination and the documentary work of writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. While Ms. Hurston is well-known as a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, her gifts also extended toward celebrating and preserving the local culture that leant such inspiration to her creative writing.

The Florida Memory site features a compilation of her sound recordings (listen to her sing "Shove It Over") as well as photographs, documents and educational resources related to her research in the Turpentine Camps of Cross City when she worked for the Federal Writers Project (a program within the Work Progress Administration). As a folklorist, she composed in film as well as prose. In the below video our contributor Ian Halbert discovered, Ms. Hurston films Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the final African slave ship that arrived 1859:

Like so many other twentieth-century artists born into rural America, Ms. Hurston actively cultivated a worldview that increasingly saw the rural and urban as interlinked places. Though she spent a great deal of time in New York City and elsewhere, she always returned to live in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida (the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the country), bringing with her an imagination and an honesty that did not always fit seamlessly into the life of this small town. The New York Times has put together a fine short documentary about Ms. Hurston's relationship to Eatonville, to accompany Damien Cave's article on this resilient community. Unfortunately, we can't embed the documentary, so please visit the link above--it's well worth your time. Also, NYT reporter Adam H. Graham offers this follow-up article that discusses all the local places to visit. 

Any discussion of Zora Neale Hurston and Eatonville, Florida must also mention Zora Fest, an annual festival that celebrates the writer, her works and the culture of the region: