Sunday, May 6, 2007

Lucy Anne Hurston Remembers her Aunt Zora

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.