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A literary sojourn.

Fluttering multicolored flags inscribed with the name "Zora!" line both sides of East Kennedy Boulevard in Eatonville, Fla. They are the first welcome signs for those attending the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival for the Arts and Humanities. For the past five years, during the last week of january, this bedroom community--10 miles north of downtown Orlando--has been transformed into a retreat for zealots of the late anthropologist, folklorist and writer. Participants gather for a mix of folk talk, laughs, and a chance to take part in workshops and lectures exploring Hurston's life and works.

"It's kind of like being in a Zora Neale Hurston universe," says Phyllis Perry, an Atlanta writer and artist who attends annually. "Most festivals have some kind of itinerary," adds Perry. "But I feel perfectly comfortable wandering around looking at the places where Zora lived or taught, and talking to people that she knew." Bold and outspoken, Hurston traveled through the South and the Caribbean, documenting the lifestyles of African-Americans. She collected songs, folk tales, fables, religious rituals and stories during the Harlem Renaissance.

Just as vacations with a cultural component are catching on, visitors to the Orlando area can now look forward to more than Disney World. The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, open year-round, serves as festival headquarters. Most events are held at the Wymore Career Education Center. A grassy lot beside the center is the site for a street festival featuring hundreds of vendors; it bubbles with the excitement of an African marketplace.

Spectators come to see Hurston's work performed in readings, plays and concerts, or to take in the street festival. There are also tours of Eatonville, the oldest black municipality in the country and the subject of Hurston's most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

While increasingly popular with the literati, the festival was created as a way to celebrate and preserve African-American communities, besides paying homage to Hurston, says N.Y. Nathiri, executive director of the sponsoring organization, the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community.

"The festival is a different kind of experience," say's Nathiri. "Hurston was a genius. She was a storyteller, worked in music, literature and theater. And the festival incorporates all of that."

"It used to be only very scholarly," says Cricket Mena, a Washington, D.C., artist who attends the festival annually. "But now you walk away with a further appreciation of her. The festival creates a camaraderie with people, especially women, from different backgrounds."

Registration for the week-long festival costs $85 for adults and $20 for seniors, students and children; included are workshops and presentations on theater, music, folklore and literature. Events are held each evening, with admission prices ranging from $10 to $30. For more information, call 800-352-3865.
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Title Annotation:Florida's annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival for the Arts and Humanities
Author:Lee, Thonnia
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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