Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming a Space, a new documentary about the late author whose groundbreaking anthropological work would challenge assumptions about race, gender, and cultural superiority, will premiere on PBS January 17 at 9 PM ET as part of the American Experience series. Check local listings.
Directed by Tracy Heather Strain, produced by Randall MacLowry, and executive-produced by Cameo George, the film will also be available on the PBS Video app.
The video clip above spotlights Hurston's The Great Day, which played one performance at Broadway's John Golden Theatre January 10, 1932. Although no Broadway producer picked up the production after the one-night debut, the revue subsequently played eight different venues in the three years that followed.
Hurston performed her own sketches on Broadway in Fast and Furious in 1931, and over 30 years after her death, Hurston and Langston Hughes' Mule Bone played Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre February-April 1991.
Hurston studied at Howard University before arriving in New York in 1925. She would become a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, best remembered for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston also studied anthropology at Barnard College with the Franz Boas. By 1932, she had been published twice in the Journal of American Folk-Lore, and during her lifetime became known as the foremost authority on Black folklore.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, mixing memory, fiction, and research, was published in 1937, followed by Tell My Horse, her second ethnographic book, in 1938. She published the autobiographical Dust Tracks on a Road in 1942. While the book helped establish her as a literary celebrity, Hurston struggled financially.
“Zora Neale Hurston has long been considered a literary giant of the Harlem Renaissance, but her anthropological and ethnographic endeavors were equally important and impactful,” says American Experience Executive Producer Cameo George. “Her research and writings helped establish the dialects and folklore of African American, Caribbean, and African people throughout the American diaspora as components of a rich, distinct culture, anchoring the Black experience in the Americas.”