To launch the Region's "Big Read" of Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God," Zora's niece Lucy came to the Writers Institute to talk of the novel, her aunt, and the Oprah-produced film of the novel, a TV-movie that aired in 2005 and starred Halle Berry as Janie, a 45 year-old woman. The best that can said about the film is that it got 300,000 more people to read the novel, and to help them understand that a great work of literature involves more than, well, swinging from a chandelier.
Lucy Anne Hurston gave an embodied sense of her aunt's free spirit as she spoke with grace and forthrightness about Zora's unusual life, her celebrated blow-up with Langston Hughes, and the spirit-breaking humiliation of Zora's being called before a grand jury in a trumped-up (and quickly dismissed) sex case. Zora, who was anti-integrationist, was not well-regarded by either the white or the African-American culture of the time. From today's viewpoint one can more readily surmise that she was an ardent defender of the integrity of African-American culture and its language, and stood against the idea of a large population "trading up" to accept and become part of the dominant white American culture.
Lucy Anne Hurston noted "there's more of Zora's autobiography in 'Their Eyes' than in the autobiography Zora wrote." No matter. It is a rich, rich book. The NEA, which supports the "Big Read" program would do well to offer more under-appreciated classics of American literature. In the Region, 100 more events follow this kick-off. Lucy Anne Hurston, who has been on a steady roll of such appearances, seems to be the kind of person one would like to go fishing with off some Florida pier with suitable libations. Some good stories and some catfish could be shared.
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Saturday, May 5, 2007
As we were going forward to post more on Norman Mailer, we encountered the most remarkable Lucy Anne Hurston who came to talk about her Aunt Zora on May 4. More about that later, but here more on, as we call him simply and with pleasure, Norman.
With gratitude we publish the following email. We should note that Prof. Zazzou noted below asked Mailer during the Q&A following his reading what he thought of James Baldwin's reaction to his early-career essay, "The White Negro." Ms. Zazzou had noted that Baldwin reacted most negatively to the essay, a fact disputed by Norman but confirmed by Mike Lennon, Mailer's archivist and biographer, happily on the scene, who quoted Baldwin on the spot. Mailer, our lion-in-not-so-much-winter-but-early-spring had noted that
he didn't think Baldwin was so negative. All the same, it was a wonderfully warm exchange, and we thank Prof. Zazzou for asking a worthy and provocative question.
Also, we should note that Mailer has a sweet habit of asking an audience member to provide him a reading copy of his book for reading that he then writes a dedication in, something that he otherwise refuses to do. The result is that people sometimes charge the stage to give him a copy "The Castle in the Forest."
Enough to set up the response that follows.
Dear Prof. Faulkner-
Last night at the Mailer event, I finally came to understand just how much Writers Institute events have meant to me. I am the woman who asked Mr. Mailer if he and James Baldwin had ever discussed Mailer's essay, "The White Negro." For years, I have said that if I ever encountered Norman Mailer, that is the question I would ask. Though I did not get an answer in the way I had hoped, I thought his reaction was interesting nonetheless! And I never thought I'd get the chance to ask! Some of my students who were in the audience last night came by my office today to tease me for being a troublemaker. Nonetheless, I was truly curious.
The afternoon workshops often conflict with my teaching schedule or reference desk duties, so I always attend the evening events. This means that I often go home and return to campus later. It has always been worth the effort. I always encourage my students to attend, and offer them extra credit even though it might have nothing to do, on the surface, with the content of my Information Literacy courses. I consider cultural literacy to be a part of information literacy. I also believe that it's obscene for students to be living on campus and miss these events.
Finally, I'd like to thank you for the diversity in your program. As a Black woman, I was thrilled to see Everton Sylvester and Edwidge Danticat; however, I was no less thrilled to see Mr. Mailer, and have him sign my book. If there had not been an elderly woman with a cane at the end of my row, that lady who jumped on stage in front of someone else might not have been so successful! Though Mr. Mailer is frail, physically, he's definitely doing fine mentally -- though his joke telling leaves a bit to be desired.:-)
Vivien E. Zazzau