Kristy Andersen, left, and Dr. Lois Hurston Gaston
BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes…I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. No, I do not weep at the world…I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. — Zora Neale Hurston
ST. PETERSBURG — She was the fifth child of eight siblings and grew up in Eatonville, Fla., the first all-black incorporated town in the United States. Her father was a Baptist preacher, carpenter and elected three times as mayor of Eatonville.
She is Zora Neale Hurston, and the documentary “Jump At The Sun — The Life Story of Zora Neale Hurston” by Florida filmmaker Kristy Andersen portrayed Hurston as a vibrant, brilliant, flamboyant, yet vexing literary conundrum.
Hurston would be the first African-American woman to capture the sights, sounds and lives of her people at work, play and church in the Deep South from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Her work as a folklorist laid the foundation for her own seminal literary works.
A standing room only crowd packed the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum to view the screening of the feature-length documentary on the literary and scholarly work of Hurston Monday evening.
Joining Andersen was Hurston’s grandniece Dr. Lois Hurston Gaston, former provost at the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College.
“I was surprised and delighted to know that someone in Tampa-the very same area where I worked and lived—was working on a life story of Zora,” said Gaston.
According to Hurston’s grandniece, her aunt was out of the country or always on the move in the United States so she did not have the chance to personally meet her.
“I only knew of her through my mother and others later in life…I never had the opportunity to meet her,” said Gaston.
Although Hurston passed more than 50 years ago, Gaston stated that she still leveraged an impact on the family that is still felt today.
“At the time that I met Kristy, she was interviewing family members—my aunts and uncles and cousins—and we were all delighted to know that there had been this resurgence in Zora’s works, and happy for Zora I might add, that this was happening. It was a time that I think attributed to us coming together as a family. We sometimes say that we got to know each other because of Zora.”
Gaston described Hurston as “having that thing that comes from having the experience of the support of people who look just like you and who give you a sense of security to go out into a larger world and know who you are and be confident in what you want to accomplish.”
Gaston underscored the vital significance of a united and functional community contributing to the growth of its future generations. Just as Hurston was the benefactor of such a community, our young people can and are benefiting from the same kind of community embrace and support today.
What initially sparked the interest of Andersen in Hurston was her work as a filmmaker. They both worked with the same media but at different time periods.
“It’s not very often you’re able to find a writer that documents themselves through the written word, but who also does so in film as a way to express their subject,” said Andersen.
Hurston used film to document black life in the South and the language and culture of black southerners. Her use of everyday language and the depiction of the ordinary lives of African Americans in their communities endeared her to many contemporaries and to writers that came generations after her such as Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Henry Louis Gates and Robert Hemingway.
Andersen commented on the depth of Hurston’s writing that is a literal extension of her hometown of Eatonville and other black communities in the south prior to court-ordered desegregation.
“I can read Zora Neale’s work over and over, and always find something new. She just has a way.”
Andersen’s documentary not only covers the high points in Hurston’s career but also the dark days when the writer/folklorist falls out of sync with the growing tide of the Civil Rights Movement that exploded during the 1950s.
For more information about the documentary or to purchase for educational purposes, Kristy Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.