The Florida Times-Union ~ Jacksonville.com
Festival celebrates talents of Eatonville author Zora Neale Hurston
By Penny Dickerson Tue, Jan 21, 2014 @ 12:24 am | updated Tue, Jan 21, 2014 @ 12:32 am
The mark of Zora Neale Hurston left an indelible impression on a global fan base.
And for a quarter of a century, Hurston’s Eatonville hometown has hosted an annual multi-day, multi-disciplinary festival to celebrate her literary legacy. This year’s event Jan. 25 through Feb. 2 commemorates a silver anniversary-themed: “Celebrating Our Milestone: 25 years of Zora! Festivals.”
The novelist, folklorist and anthropologist lived in Jacksonville in the 1920s and returned a number of times until her death in 1960. She is perhaps best known for her 1937 book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and is said to have influenced such writers as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison.
Mildred Alene Murrell, a 95-year-old Jacksonville resident, wrote the book, “Zora Neale Hurston: In and Around Jacksonville, Florida in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s.”
“Well, Zora was like a genius,” Murrell said at a Ritz Theatre book signing last year. “She was talented in so many areas. She could sing. She could dance. She could do poetry. She could write. Her storytelling was fabulous, because she could make up such funny stories, especially when she was talking to the little ones.”
Congresswoman Corrine Brown traditionally holds an annual town hall meeting at the festival, but for the anniversary celebration this year, she plans to host international dignitaries to illuminate Hurston’s research abroad as a distinguished Guggenheim Fellow.
Another highlight will be Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, who will headline an outdoor performance at 3 p.m. Feb 1.
The festival also includes workshops and discussions, a Bethune-Cookman University concert chorale, book fairs, a brunch and party, family day, garden tours, the silver anniversary gala and outdoor festival of the arts, among other events. Some events have a nominal charge, others are free.
Hurston’s legacy also extends to Jacksonville’s Clara White Mission.
“Eartha M.M. White and Zora were close friends during an era difficult for Negro women with few rights,” said Clara White CEO and president, JuCoby Pittman.
“It’s important to expose others to how far we’ve all come with the help of others.”