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The Greene Space Presents the 75th Anniversary of Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

(New York, NY – January 18, 2012) –THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is Zora Neale Hurston’s story of Janie Crawford’s quest for her own identity.  Though greeted with controversy and critique by the male literary establishment upon publication in 1937 – contributing to it falling out of print for 30 years – it is now, since its reissue in 1978, one of the most widely read and highly acclaimed novels in the African American literary canon. 

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the original publication and to herald its place as a seminal work in the American literary tradition, The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WNYC and WQXR will present a multiplatform exploration of the novel and its influence with “The 75th Anniversary of Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD.”

“I am honored and excited to direct Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a very important work in the fabric of American culture that takes us, not farther away from, but deeper into Black folk traditions,” said RUBEN SANTIAGO-HUDSON, who will direct The Greene Space’s production of the first American adaptation of the novel as a radio play.  “Their Eyes beautifully captures the essence, language, life and stories of Black people and celebrates them.  Creating a radio drama of this poetic and powerful text is a huge undertaking and I believe that we are in the process of creating an experience not soon to be forgotten.”

“The Greene Space is dedicated to presenting great work for both live, online and audio audiences, and this endeavor to illuminate a novel that has been so meaningful for so many is a significant and ambitious building block in our curatorial vision,” said INDIRA ETWAROO, Executive Producer of The Greene Space and Producer of The Hurston Series.  “When Arthur Yorinks and Ruben Santiago-Hudson agreed to join this project, I knew something very special was about to unfold.  When Phylicia Rashad, Ruby Dee, Sonia Sanchez and Alice Walker came on board – women whose shoulders I stand on – “very special” quickly became “once-in a-lifetime.” All of these artists carry Zora’s torch to speak for all of us on what it means to be human and authentically oneself.”

The heart of the 75th Anniversary Festival will be The Greene Space’s production of the first-ever American radio adaptation of THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD before a live audience and live video webcast audience online. Presented on two nights, on Wednesday, February 29 and Thursday, March 1, the radio play will be directed by SANTIAGO-HUDSON, currently starring on Broadway in Stickfly, and adapted by award-winning writer ARTHUR YORINKS, with a cast that includes Tony Award and Emmy Award-Winning Actress PHYLICIA RASHAD narrating and LESLIE UGGAMS starring as Grandmother.  The performances will be taped for a national radio broadcast in September 2012.

On Wednesday, March 28, The Greene Space will also host a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author – ALICE WALKER – who resurrected Hurston’s visbility and legacy when she went in search of Zora’s unmarked grave in Florida and marked it with a headstone that read, “Zora Neale Hurston/A Genius of the South/Novelist/Folklorist/Anthropologist/1901-1960.” She will be joined by SONIA SANCHEZ, the Inaugural Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, and actress and Civil Rights veteran RUBY DEE, who starred in the made-for-TV production of Their Eyes Were Watching God.  The conversation will be moderated by Hurston’s niece LUCY ANNE HURSTON.

The celebration will kick off on Friday, February 24 with a special WQXR event hosted by Terrance McKnight in The Greene Space exploring Hurston’s close but contentious relationship with another Harlem Renaissance icon, Langston Hughes.

The festival will also convene fans and build community around the novel, through a literary salon with readings by CARL HANCOCK RUX, a dedicated twitter hashtag “#Zora75, and a video short from The Greene Space and JAMAL JOSEPH that will explore the continued resonance Their Eyes Were Watching God has for audiences worldwide 75 years after it was written

Finally, The Greene Space will host a book club throughout Summer 2012 leading up to the national broadcast of the audio play in September. Further details will be announced at a later date.

A complete schedule of festival activities is below and is also available at http://www.thegreenespace.org/articles/thegreenespace/2012/jan/17/75th-anniversary-zora-neale-hurstons-their-eyes-were-watching-god/.

EVENTS AT THE GREENE SPACE

Tickets available at www.thegreenespace.org. All events will be available as a live video webcast at www.thegreenspace.org.

Friday, February 24 at 7pm

WQXR presents I, TOO, SING AMERICA: LANGSTON AND ZORA’S UN-SUNG COLLABORATION, Hosted by Terrance McKnight

Like countless creative collaborations, the one between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes was fruitful but ultimately ended in acrimony. Award-winning WQXR radio host Terrance McKnight, who recently finished a radio documentary exploring Langston’s commonly overlooked musical endeavors entitled I, Too, Sing American: Music in the Life of Langston Hughes, will take us on a multimedia journey to the Harlem Renaissance, the burgeoning cultural era for African Americans that was the setting for Zora and Langston’s ill-fated partnership. Excerpts from Mule Bone a comedy about African American life that Hurston and Hughes began writing in 1930, but that Hurston submitted for copyright as the sole writer will be read.  The copy of this play in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale University has a hand-written notation by Hughes: “This play was never done because the authors fell out.”  The evening will also include musical presentations. (For further information on the radio special, please visit www.wqxr.org)

TICKETS: $15

Wednesday, February 29 & Thursday, March 1 at 7pm

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD: A Radio Play

Set in the 1920s, Their Eyes is the story of Janie Crawford free-spirited and in search of life and her authentic self as she undertakes an unexpected journey that includes marriages to three different men, challenging the morals and social expectations of the small Southern town that serves as the narrative backdrop. The Greene Space will present the first American radio drama of this timeless and affecting tale.

Directed by Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, currently starring in Stick Fly on Broadway. Adapted by award-winning writer Arthur Yorinks, who has written and directed for theater, opera, film dance and radio. The exceptional cast includes the first African American woman to receive a Tony Award for “Best Performance by a Lead Actresss in a Play,” Phylicia Rashad, as narrator, Chuck Cooper as Joe Starks, Brandon Dirdon as Tea Cake and Leslie Uggams as the Grandmother. Original score composed by blues legend Bill Sims, Jr.  Sound Design by Ricardo Fernandez and Lighting Design by Jeannette Yew. 

Tickets: $40

Wednesday, March 14 at 6 pm

A LITERARY SALON

The Greene Space will harken back to the literary salons of the Harlem Renaissance and create a space for Hurston admirers to congregate, swap remembrances of their experience with the book, and hear excerpts from the novel read by award-winning writer and poet Carl Hancock Rux. The evening will include conversation, mingling, wine and light hors d'oeuvres.

Tickets: $25

Wednesday, March 28 at 7pm

WOMEN WRITERS ON THE HORIZON

She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net.  Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulders.  So much of life in its meshes!  She called in her soul to come and see.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

After 75 years, this epic novel still resonates in the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences, but it had particular significance for black women writers and artists who were working at the time of its rediscovery.  The Greene Space has convened three luminaries who are all intimately connected to the novel – Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez and Ruby Dee  –  to share their stories and describe how they saw Janie and Zora’s horizons on their own journeys.  Zora Neale Hurston’s niece Lucy Anne Hurston, author of Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, will serve as the evening’s moderator.

Tickets: $25

SPECIAL 75th ANNIVERSARY THEIR EYES VIP TICKET PACKAGE: $100

  • VIP seating for the following events:
    • I, TOO, SING AMERICA: LANGSTON AND ZORA’S UN-SUNG COLLABORATION
    • THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD: A Radio Drama
    • WOMEN WRITERS ON THE HORIZON
  • A signed copy of the radio script
  • Pre-show wine reception, with a meet and greet with special guests before each event
  • THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD commemorative poster designed by the award-winning designer, Hollis King

NATIONAL RADIO BROADCAST – SEPTEMBER 2012

The radio play will be presented on public radio stations around the country, including WNYC, in September 2012, to coincide with the anniversary month of the publication of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

ONLINE AT www.TheGreeneSpace.org

The Greene Space will offer a vibrant range of content and engagement online.

A dedicated webpage at www.thegreenespace.org will feature exclusive web content including:

  • A documentary short video, co-directed by Jamal Joseph, Academy Award nominee and Chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, capturing the sights, sounds and personalities in Eatonville, Florida, Hurston’s hometown
  • Video testimonials by festival participants
  • Daily quotes for reflection from Hurston and other Harlem Renaissance authors
  • Behind–the-scenes access to the development of the radio production with video and photographic blogs.

A dedicated hashtag (#Zora75) will facilitate conversation between fans around the country and around the world.

New York Public Radio is New York's premier public radio franchise, comprising WNYC, WQXR, The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, and New Jersey Public Radio, as well as www.wnyc.org, www.wqxr.org, www.thegreenespace.org and www.njpublicradio.org. As America's most listened-to AM/FM news and talk public radio stations, reaching 1.1 million listeners every week, WNYC extends New York City's cultural riches to the entire country on-air and online, and presents the best national offerings from networks National Public Radio, Public Radio International, American Public Media, and the British Broadcasting Company. WQXR is New York City's sole 24-hour classical music station, presenting new and landmark classical recordings as well as live concerts from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, among other New York City venues, immersing listeners in the city's rich musical life. In addition to its audio content, WNYC and WQXR produce content for live, radio and web audiences from The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, the station's street-level multipurpose, multiplatform broadcast studio and performance space. New Jersey Public Radio extends WNYC reach and service more deeply into New Jersey. For more information about New York Public Radio, visit www.nypublicradio.org.