Mini 'ZoraFest' Featured Books, Food, Folklore and Laughter
When Lucy Anne Hurston discovered a book in her father's library, she wondered how was it that she and the author shared the same last name. The book was the iconic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, written by African-American writer and luminary Zora Neale Hurston. Lucy Anne's discovery changed the course of her life because from that point, Lucy, a sociology professor at Manchester Community College in Connecticut, embarked on a journey to celebrate the legacy of her famous aunt--anthropologist/author and playwright Zora Neale Hurston.
On January 29, during the month Zora was born 121 years ago in 1901, Lucy Anne returned to Washington for a special version of "Food and Folklore" at Eatonville Restaurant. The Columbia Heights southern-style eatery in Northwest was named for the town that Zora Neale Hurston called home – Eatonville, Fla., – the first incorporated African-American town in the United States.
Opening in 2009, Eatonville Restaurant timed its own annual mini ZoraFest—a weekend event with a craft fair and market, and "Fancy Hat-and-Fans" themed brunch – to coincide with the annual ZoraFest held each year in Eatonville, Fla.
But rather than making the trek way down south, Lucy Anne (named for her grandmother, Zora's mother, Lucy Anne Potts) came to D.C. to officiate the birthday party for her late aunt, who passed away in relative obscurity in Fort Pierce, Fla. in 1960.
Making the event truly an evening of storytelling, Lucy Anne came with her own best stories, and books, as well as stories and books collected by her aunt. She also came with a plethora of hats and costume changes to make "tonight about fun!"
Stories were told—some naughty like a recording of Zora singing "Uncle Bud," and others poignant like the story of the Wind and the Water—while diners noshed on smoked tomato bread pudding and a spicy Blackened Tripletail (fish) pilau.
"I hope everyone is in a playful mood," Hurston sassed. "We are going to have hat changes—Zora was a hat person—costumes and readings; big readings and intimate readings at each table. We are in for a gut-wrenching good time with the food!"
A renowned author in her own right, Lucy Anne penned "SPEAK, SO YOU CAN SPEAK AGAIN: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston" an adult pop-up book with facsimiles of maps, letters and handmade Christmas cards by Zora, and other memorabilia all reproduced to look like the originals.
While the book is currently out of print, a copy was circulated among the 40 diners who were able to hear the actual voice of Zora captured on a CD that accompanied the book. Lucy Anne has also produced two documentaries about her famous aunt and staged a version of "Mulebone," the play co-authored by Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes that resulted in the famed rift between the two writers.
Possessing a similarly ebullient personality, Lucy Anne guests entertained from the opening reception, where crispy coconut shrimp appetizers and turtle soup shooters were served, down to the dessert finale—a rich red velvet coconut sheet cake wishing Zora a Happy Birthday.
"There are only two places in the world that I feel Zora's spirit," said Lucy Anne, who has done research in St. Kitts and Jamaica. "That is in her old house in Fort Pierce, Florida and here at Eatonville."