'The Big Read' at UCF to Focus on Zora Neale Hurston

‘The Big Read’ at UCF to Focus on Zora Neale Hurston

UCF’s College of Arts & Humanities has been awarded one of 75 grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to participate in “The Big Read,” a nationwide program created to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

Grant recipients around the country pick their own books to feature. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of author Zora Neale Hurston’s birth, beginning in January the college will partner with the Seminole County Public Library to host six weeks of events focusing on her book “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Events will include an art exhibit, lectures, film screenings, theatrical performances and other programs.

Keri Watson, an assistant professor in the School of Visual Arts & Design, wrote the NEA matching grant for a total of $30,000 to support the project.

“Because of our location and the anniversary, it’s a good tie-in for the community,” said Watson.

Hurston was born in 1891 in Notasulga, Ala., but her family moved to Eatonville when she was a child. She later lived a brief time in Sanford, where she wrote her first book, “Jonah’s Gourd Vine,” published in 1934.

Of her four novels and more than 50 short stories, plays and essays, her best known work was the 1937 “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The author, folklorist and anthropologist died in 1960.

Watson said the UCF project will be complementary to the annual Zora! Festival in Eatonville on Jan. 23-31, which also is also celebrating the author’s 125th birthday in January.

Only three other grants were given in Florida for different books to be featured in The Big Read – Broward Public Library Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Dade College, and Volusia County Public Library. Participants pick one of 35 featured novels for their programs.

Kicking off the Hurston series will be a reception and art exhibit in the UCF Art Gallery featuring the work of Boston conceptual artist Eric Gottesman and the students and faculty of the UCF School of Visual Arts and Design and their colleagues at Rollins College. The exhibit, “The Encounter: Baalu Girma and Zora Neale Hurston,” will be Jan. 11-Feb. 18 and present a fictional encounter between the two writers. Girma was an Ethiopian novelist and journalist who died in 1984.

“Though the two writers overlapped in time, but not in place, Gottesman was inspired to create a work of art that would imagine a meeting between these two important African diaspora public intellectuals,” said gallery director Yulia Tikhonova.

A reception at the gallery to kickoff the series will be 6-8 p.m. Jan. 14.

The other events in the free series are:

  • Jan. 15 – Lecture: Zora Heale Hurston and Afro-Futurism by Julian C. Chambliss, a Rollins College associate professor of history and director of African and African-American Studies. Chambliss has presented his work to domestic and international audiences, and his commentaries can be found in such media outlets as CBS News Radio, National Public Radio, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel and others. The lecture will be 6 p.m. in the gallery.
  • Jan. 16 – Film screening and discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the screen adaption of the movie produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Producions. The movie stars Halle Berry, Michael Ealy, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Terrence Howard and Ruby Dee. Following the screening, Scot French, associate professor of history at the University of Central Florida and Director of the Public History Center, will lead a panel discussion with Trent Tomengo, professor of humanities at Seminole State College, and Lisa Mills, professor of film at the University of Central Florida. The program will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland.
  • Feb. 1 – Lecture on “The Life of Zora in Sanford” by Francis Oliver, coordinator of the Goldsboro Museum in Sanford. The noon lecture will be at the Sanford branch of the Seminole County Public Library, 150 N. Palmetto Ave.
  • Feb. 2 – Book club discussion. Seminole County Public Libraries’ Book Clubs will read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and host book discussions open to the public at the February 2016 meetings. The first will be 6:30-7:45 p.m. at the Central Branch, 215 N. Oxford Road, Casselberry.
  • Feb. 3 – Book club discussions 6:30-7:45 p.m. at the east branch library, 310 Division St., Oviedo, and west branch library at 245 N. Hunt Club Blvd., Longwood.
  • Feb. 4 – Seminole County youth services librarians will present a school age program that will share a few of Hurston’s collected folklore tales. Storytelling will be presented with puppets, followed by a related science experiment, and an opportunity to make art that relates to one of the tales presented. Hurston collected folktales as she traveled the back roads of Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisana so that the spirit and richness of the oral storytelling tradition could be shared and preserved. The programs will feature stories from “What’s the Hurry, Fox?,” “Lies and other Tall Tales,” and “Go Gator and Muddy the Water.” The program will be 3-5 p.m. at the northwest branch library, 580 Green Way Blvd., Lake Mary.
  • Feb. 5-7 – “New Windows Looking Back” glass art project. Glass artist Therman Statom will involve children at the Midway Safe Harbor Community Center in the creation of a glass sculpture inspired by “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Statom is an American Studio Glass artist whose primary medium is sheet glass. He cuts, paints and assembles glass to create three-dimensional sculptures. Sound and projected digital imagery are also features of the environmental works. The project will be at 2405 Rightway, Sanford.
  • Feb. 9 – Book club discussion at east branch library, 310 Division St., Oviedo, 1-2:15 p.m.
  • Feb. 10 – Book club discussion at north branch library, 150 N. Palmetto Ave., Sanford, 6:30-7:45 p.m.
  • Feb. 16 – Book club discussion at northwest branch library, 580 Green Way Blvd., Lake Mary, 12:30-1-45 p.m.
  • Feb. 16 – “Their Eyes, Our Voices” game jam and showcase. The UCF School of Visual Arts & Design and UCF Art Gallery will showcase games students created that were inspired by “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The evening will feature a guest performance by Dietrich Squinkifer, a writer, programmer, musician and visual artist. The activity will be 6-8 p.m. at the art gallery.
  • Feb. 17 – Seminole County youth services librarians will present their program for school age children that will share a few of Hurston’s collected folklore tales 3-5 p.m. at the northwest branch library, 580 Green Way Blvd., Lake Mary.
  • Feb. 23 – Film screening of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” at northwest branch library, 580 Green Way Blvd., Lake Mary, at noon.
  • Feb. 24 – Seminole County youth services librarians will present their program for school age children that will share a few of Hurston’s collected folklore tales 3-5 p.m. at the west branch library, 2445 N. Hunt Club Blvd., Longwood.

Events are still being added to The Big Read. For the up-do-date schedule, check back at http://bigread.cah.ucf.edu/.

Watson said she plans to apply for another grant next year for The Big Read with a different book.