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Events throughout Macon County on May 21 and 22 will commemorate the life and legacy of African-American author Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston, a native of Notasulga, Alabama, was a beloved literary figure of the Harlem Renaissance best known for her womanist prose, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
“This year has been dedicated to Zora Neale Hurston. She left her roots in Alabama and truly inspired a rich literary culture,” said Dr. Rhonda Collier, an associate professor in Tuskegee University’s Department of Modern Languages, Communication and Philosophy, and director of the Tuskegee University Global Office.
On Tuesday, May 21, the university will welcome Dr. Deborah Plant to Notasulga High School for a book signing and discussion of Hurston’s work, Barraccon. Barracoon remained unedited for 60 years until 2018 when it became a New York Times bestseller, with Plant serving as its editor. The event will begin at 2 p.m. in the Notasulga High School Cafeteria. Books-A-Million will be onsite to sell copies of the book.
“Barracoon tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to this country aboard the last ship that carried enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. Hurston’s interviews with Cudjo were conducted in Africatown, now Mobile, Alabama,” Collier explained.
On Wednesday, May 22, Tuskegee will host playwright Gabrielle Pina on campus at the Legacy Museum, with a special film screening of Pina’s acclaimed play, Letters from Zora: In Her Own Words. The screening will begin at 1 p.m. After the 90-minute film, the audience is invited to join the playwright in conversation.
“Pina was inspired to write this play after visiting the Kinsey Collection at the California African American Museum, where she encountered hundreds of letters written to or by Zora Neale Hurston,” Collier said. “After a year of research, Pina’s Letters of Zora emerged as an intimate one-woman show honoring the life and spirit of Ms. Hurston.”
The play stars Vanessa Bell Calloway and includes an original score composed by Ron McCurdy, a professor of jazz studies at University of California who sought to capture the blues and jazz-era music of the time.
Through July 14, the Legacy Museum is also the temporary home of The Soul of Zora: A Literary Legacy through Quilts. The exhibit, which opened in March, features nine quilts inspired by Hurston and on loan from Marla A. Jackson, executive director of the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy Museum in Lawrence, Kansas. Each reflects the imagination and talent of nine contemporary American quilters who are committed to preserving this important art form.
“Hurston’s character, strength and wide variety of writing can be seen in these quilts — they are sure to have you standing in awe,” Collier noted.
The quilt exhibit is co-sponsored through a grant from the Alabama Bicentennial Committee, as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities — the latter of which has funded the two-year grant “Literary Legacies of Macon County and Tuskegee Institute: Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph W. Ellison, Albert Murray.” This NEH grant funding will make possible a comprehensive project producing new curricular materials, digital humanities resources, and community engagement activities focused on three 20th century authors: Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.
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