Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities

Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities

Date Observed: Last week in January
Location: Eatonville, Florida

Anthropologist, folklorist, and writer Zora Neale Hurston is honored in a festival of the arts and humanities in Eatonville, Florida, which Hurston claimed as her birthplace. The annual festival is organized by the Association to Preserve Eatonville and is held during the last week in January.

Historical Background

Throughout her lifetime, Zora Neale Hurston called Eatonville, Florida, her hometown - the place where she was born - and she gave the year of her birth as 1901. Yet records show she was born in Alabama in 1891. When she was one or two years old, however, her family moved to Eatonville, one of the nation's first all-black incorporated towns. Eatonville had a strong influence on her writing and life choices.

When Hurston was 13 years old, her mother died, and her father, a preacher, carpenter, and farmer in Eatonville, sent her to Jacksonville to attend a boarding school, the Florida Baptist Academy, where two of her siblings also were enrolled. Hurston did well in her studies, but did not respond with deference to authority figures - in fact, she was called "sassy."

After less than five months at the Academy, Hurston learned that her father had remarried, which distressed her and the other children. She had never been close to her father, whose many marital infidelities disturbed her, and his remarriage to a much younger woman upset her even further. She also learned that her father had not paid for her stay at the boarding school.

In order to complete her freshman year, Hurston did domestic work at the school. When the school term ended, she expected her father to come for her, but he did not, and a school administrator paid her way home - which turned out to be a disaster. She had a brutal fight with her stepmother, and Hurston again left home, forced out by her father.

Hurston spent the next few years staying with various family members and working as a domestic. About 1915, she got a job as a maid for one of the stars in a traveling theater company, and she stayed with the troupe for 18 months. When she left the group in Baltimore, Maryland, she found menial jobs and hoped to go back to school.

In 1917, after much frustration trying to save money for tuition, Hurston enrolled in a free public night school. Even though she was actually 26 years old, she looked like a teenager and gave her age as 16 and birth date as 1901, a myth she continued to perpetuate for the rest of her life. New York Times Book Fair in November 1937. Because she did well academically, Hurston gained confidence to enroll in a black preparatory school, Morgan Academy, connected with Morgan College (now Morgan State University). The dean of Morgan helped her find a job with the family of a trustee in order to pay her tuition.

After graduating from Morgan, Hurston became a part-time student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Again, she worked at menial jobs to support herself. At Howard, she began her writing career, publishing her first short story (set in Eatonville) in the university's literary magazine Stylus. Over the next few years, Hurston found publishing outlets for more of her short stories, also based on Eatonville. After winning an award in 1925 for a story titled "Spunk," she moved to New York and became associated with the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and artistic movement. Hurston also was granted a scholarship to Barnard, where she combined studies in anthropology with her writing. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1928, becoming the first African American to graduate from Barnard.

From the time of her years at Barnard through the 1930s, Hurston conducted fieldwork in African-American folklore in the South and the Caribbean, collecting songs, sermons, legends, children's games, and staying in labor camps, all of which contributed to some of her best writing. She was the first African American to publish black folklore, and much of her published work includes tales in dialect and descriptions of everyday black culture. She also wrote novels, plays, anthropological studies, poetry, and magazine articles.

During the 1940s, Hurston's literary output was irregular, and not necessarily well received, although her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), sold well. Yet her income from writing was not enough to cover expenses, so she again became a domestic to support herself.

Controversy surrounded Hurston during the 1950s when she opposed, or failed to support, civil rights efforts. She also was involved in ultraconservative political issues and wrote for magazines that espoused conservative views. She argued that black people should not feel sorry for themselves but should be strong individuals and work steadfastly to reach their goals.

In 1959 she suffered a severe stroke, and in 1960 died in a Fort Pierce, Florida, welfare home. Not until years after her death did Hurston's work come to the forefront once more. In 1975, Alice Walker, who later became well known for her literary work, wrote an article describing her visit to a cemetery where she placed a marker near what was thought to be Hurston's grave. Walker's article helped rekindle interest in Hurston, as did the 1977 publication of Robert D. Hemenway's Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Since then, Hurston's work has caught the attention of many new readers, writers, storytellers, filmmakers - and festivalgoers.

Hurston on Eatonville

In Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), she wrote about Eatonville as her birthplace:

Like the dead-seeming, cold rocks, I have memories within that came out of the material that went to make me. Time and place have had their say.

So you will have to know something about the time and place where I came from, in order that you may interpret the incidents and directions of my life.

I was born in a Negro town. I do not mean by that the black back-side of an average town. Eatonville, Florida, is, and was at the time of my birth, a pure Negro town - charter, mayor, council, town marshal and all. It was not the first Negro community in America, but it was the first to be incorporated, the first attempt at organized self-government on the part of Negroes in America. . . .

On August 18, 1886, the Negro town, called Eatonville, after Captain Eaton, received its charter of incorporation from the state capital at Tallahassee, and made history by becoming the first of its kind in America, and perhaps in the world. So, in a raw, bustling frontier, the experiment of self-government for Negroes was tried. White Maitland and Negro Eatonville have lived side by side for fifty-five years without a single instance of enmity. The spirit of the founders has reached beyond the grave.

Creation of the Festival

The idea for the Zora Neale Hurston Festival was sparked in 1989 when Orange County officials in central Florida wanted to expand a main road that ran through Eatonville, 10 miles north of Orlando. In response, residents formed the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community and organized a festival to raise funds to stop the road project and maintain the town. The first festival was held in 1990. Today the Association's goals include celebrating Hurston, Eatonville, and the larger cultural contributions of African Americans.


The week-long festival, also known as Zora!, takes place at a variety of venues. There is a "HATitude" luncheon with a style show to celebrate Hurston's fondness for hats. A concert choir performance and ecumenical Christian service at a church in Eatonville; a bus tour of Hurston's favorite places in Eatonville, Maitland, and the surrounding area; a smorgasbord of international foods; art exhibits; cultural programs; and public forums with notable guest speakers are all part of the celebration.

Contacts and Web Sites

ZORA! Festival 227 E. Kennedy Blvd. Eatonville, FL 32751 407-599-9930 or 407-599-9963; fax: 407-599-5100

"The Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress"

Further Reading

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003. Deck, Alice A. "Zora Neale Hurston." In Black Heroes, edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Foreword by Nikki Giovanni. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2001. Hemenway, Robert E. Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Kaplan, Carla, ed. Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters. New York: Doubleday, 2002. Luker, Ralph E. "Hurston, Zora Neale." In African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Writings by Zora Neale Hurston

Dust Tracks on a Road. 1942. Reprinted with a foreword by Maya Angelou. New York: HarperPerennial, 2006. Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writers' Project . Edited and with a biographical essay by Pamela Bordelon. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990. Moses, Man of the Mountain. 1938. Reprinted with a foreword by Deborah E. McDowell. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991. Tell My Horse. 1938. Reprinted with a foreword by Ishmael Reed. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1939. Reprinted with a foreword by Mary Helen Washington. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007

Hurston (Zora Neale) Festival of the Arts and Humanities

Late January to early February
The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities (also known as the Zora! Festival ) is an eight-day, multi-disciplinary event held every year in late January to early February in Eatonville, Fla. Zora Neale Hurston was an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. She was also a respected folklorist and anthropologist who devoted herself to preserving the culture of African Americans in the South. She grew up in Eatonville, noted as the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States.
The Zora! Festival was launched in 1990 to showcase her life and work, as well as to celebrate her hometown and the cultural contributions that people of African descent have made to the United States and the world. It features a three-day street festival of the arts, the first day of which is a special education day for school children. The street festival also showcases performances by nationally known acts. During the week prior to the street festival, art exhibits, literary readings, academic presentations, conferences, and lectures, many of them free of charge, are devoted to Hurston and African-American arts in general.
Zora! Festival
227 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Eatonville, FL 32751
407-647-3131; fax: 407-539-2192
AAH-2007, p. 437
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
The 18th Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities
"The Most Unfortunate Thing Zora Ever Wrote: A Defense of Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road - A Different View of Autobiography." Second Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, 1991.
The annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities in Eatonville, Florida, is an example.