Cost: $20 standard, $10 UCF ID
Please join us for a reception with the cast and crew in the lower lobby immediately following our opening night performance.
A collaboration with the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, presenter of the ZORA! Festival 2016 program
Treasured local author Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) weaves together song and story in a dramatic retelling of her award-winning short story of the same name.
There will be one fifteen-minute intermission. This production contains gunshots.
Young African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance used to get together on a regular basis to support each other’s work, to socialize, and to stimulate creativity. In 1926, under the leadership of Wallace Thurman and Langston Hughes they came together to create Fire!! The magazine was conceived to express the African American experience during the Harlem Renaissance in a modern and realistic fashion.
The magazine’s founders wanted to express the changing attitudes of younger African Americans. In Fire!! they explored edgy issues in their community such as homosexuality, interracial relationships, adultery, African religious rituals, and female sexuality. All these were topics that were typically off limits for the older generation of African American writers like W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington—two of the most influential voices of African American rhetoric of the time. This magazine acknowledged that there was a generation gap for the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
As a playwright, I wanted to celebrate the magnificent storytelling of Zora Neale Hurston. I also wanted to honor other major influences of the movement who were in Zora’s company, many of whom were her friends: Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman, Helene Johnson, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Richard Nugent. These voices shaped my experience as an African American artist and gave me the courage to explore my heritage from all perspectives.
The script presents a fictitious meeting between these writers to decide which of their works should go into the magazine. It exposes the generation gap, as well as the dissension between the younger writers. As a spirited discussion ensues, Zora’s storytelling of Spunk becomes the highlight of the evening and the way to put the group on the same page. Zora’s ability to tell a story made her the main attraction of any social engagement and a sensation in the literary world.
It is my hope that after seeing this play, you will continue to enjoy and experience these artists. The Harlem Renaissance exposed America to the real African American culture and we are forever grateful to Zora and her contemporaries for their courage and creativity, but most of all, for their commitment to tell it like it was and, unfortunately, in the bleakest situations, still is.
—Be Boyd, Director/Playwright
At a young age, Zora Neale Hurston’s mother advised her to “jump at de sun.” Four novels, an autobiography, two books on folklore, twenty plays and musical revues, over fifty short stories and essays, and one colossal “jump at de sun” later, Zora Neale Hurston became one of the most prolific, influential black writers in American history.
There has long been debate about Hurston’s exact age, as during her life she was reluctant to share the information, but scholars now agree that Hurston was born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. She moved to Eatonville, Florida (approximately seven miles from Orlando) with her mother, father, and seven siblings at a young age. For Hurston, Eatonville was home. Her works were frequently inspired by her journeys and adventures in Eatonville.
Hurston attended Howard University, a historically black college located in Washington D.C., from 1919 to 1924. It was while studying at Howard that Hurston developed her literary skills and interest in writing. After graduating in 1924, Hurston was accepted to Barnard College in New York City. The summer before attending Barnard, Hurston submitted her short story “Spunk” along with her play Color Struck for publication, both of which won second prize in a literary contest. They were published in literary magazines like Opportunity and The New Negro.
While studying at Barnard, Hurston worked closely under anthropologist Dr. Franz Boaz, a major influence in the writer’s life. By this time, the Harlem Renaissance, a period of black literary and artistic movement, had begun. In 1926, Hurston started a literary magazine entitled Fire!! with her colleagues Wallace Thurman and Langston Hughes. Though there was only one issue and it was largely ignored at the time, Fire!! is now regarded as an incredibly significant piece of literature from the Harlem Renaissance.
By 1928, Hurston was the first African American to graduate from Barnard College. Shortly after graduating, Hurston attended Columbia University, while still working under Dr. Boaz. Her works grew increasingly popular over the years; however, in 1933, her popularity declined and by 1935, Hurston was forced to take a six-year hiatus from writing until 1941, when she began working at Paramount Pictures as a story consultant. She continued writing until her death in 1960.
Hurston famously quipped, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” Zora Neale Hurston’s fun-loving personality combined with her genius literary works has helped make her one of the most important literary voices in American history.
—Tommy Heller, Dramaturg
* UCF student. † UCF faculty member.
* UCF student.