Zora Neal Hurston’s niece launches ‘Big Read’ of classic novel


Lucy Ann Hurston’s Aunt Zora died when Lucy was just 3. But that didn’t stop Lucy from wanting to know more about her Aunt “Zori”, as she calls her. Lucy, an avid reader at a young age, used to sneak up into the attic to read a novel that she later learned was the original manuscript of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Once she learned the manuscript was written by a relative, she spent the next 30 years prodding her dad with questions about a family member she never remembered meeting.

“After reading Zori’s work, I knew I was going to be a lifelong reader,” said Hurston. “It made me proud. She wasn’t just a black woman; she was my aunt.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937, but the Hurston novel may be finding its way into the hands of many readers now more than ever before. This is partly through the promotion of Lucy Ann Hurston’s book about her aunt (Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, published in 2004 by Doubleday), and partly through the National Endowment for the Art’s new program called “The Big Read.”

The Big Read was launched to increase literacy by getting people to read not just any book, but one specific book so there’s plenty of discussion circulating. Ten literary centers and libraries nationwide have been charged to lead The Big Read by promoting book clubs, discussions and other events focused on the book.

The Loft, located in downtown Minneapolis, is one of those literary centers chosen to participate. Out of four classic novels, the Loft chose Their Eyes Were Watching God to be this year’s Big Read book.

“The response has been great,” said Jerod Santek, director of programs for writers. “People are very interested in the project and the book. A lot of people maybe read it years ago and are getting reacquainted with it; others are reading it for the first time. Great stuff happens when people come together to talk about a book.”

On May 10, Lucy Hurston stopped by The Loft to discuss her aunt’s work with a group of readers. She is currently promoting her own book across the country as part of The Big Read. Hurston, now a sociologist and author, said the mark you leave on your community is a mark you leave forever: “You can change the world in your own community. You may not necessarily need credentials to make an impact. But you can do it. There’s a sense of right and wrong, and decency and the decisions you make really can make the world a better place.”

While reading is typically done independently and not in a social setting, Santek believes reading is actually a way to build a community. “I think folks today are hungrier for community than we realize,” he says. “People are eager for a chance to come together and talk about a book. Once people start and discover the pleasure of reading and talking about books as a community, they will keep going.”

The Loft is hosting many programs throughout May and June for community members to discuss Their Eyes Were Watching God. For more information, visit the Loft’s “Web site”:http://www.loft.org.

Talk about the power of reading in our “Arts forum”:https://www.tcdailyplanet.net/forum/59.