The 22nd annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities was held this week in Orlando (if you’re reading this on Sunday, Jan. 30, you can still catch the last day of the street festival.)
The festival is in Eatonville, Zora’s hometown, just north of Orlando, Florida. (If you don't know much about Zora, read this brief bio).
And the events have a big impact on Orlando (at least to me). Every year the festival organizers bring writers, academics, musicians and artists to town to give talks, exhibit their work and perform. The people who are featured are luminaries in their field. It’s one of the best times of year in Orlando if you are, like me, a person who is intensely interested in and passionate about the African diaspora.
On Jan. 26 I went to Eatonville to hear Tara Betts (poet and writing professor, NYC) read at Club Koha. Tara participated in the VONA writing retreat in 2010 and I met her there. She tells stories with her poetry, powerfully. I have been looking forward to her event at the Zora Festival for two months.
And her reading was wonderful. The club was a great venue for the reading and was preceded by a reception opening the festival. The food was wonderful, done by a new empanada truck which will launch in Orlando soon (hopefully very soon – the Moroccan lentil empanadas are worth tracking).
In addition to hearing Tara read and getting a copy of her collection, Arc & Hue, I met and made new friends at the event. Poetry + friendship + food = win.
Today our family went to the street festival, which I go to nearly every year. The festival features artists, vendors and music (Ashford & Simpson headlined this year).
I was so excited to see the Haiti pavilion – a section with booths for a group of Haitian artists. There were many pieces of metalwork. I have one from a previous, non-Zora event, and it is one of my favorite and most beautiful things. Today I bought another and my kids chose it. The new piece is painted and fits perfectly with our sea-themed bathroom.
One of the reasons I love the festival is for, don’t judge me, the shopping. There are so many things that I don’t see often in Orlando (African inspired clothing, music).
Sometimes, honestly, I wonder how many people actually have read any of Zora’s work at the festival. And I think about how vendors and pop music connect to her work – novels, anthropology, history.
Today it seemed very clear. As I spoke French to Haitian artists, bought a mudcloth and denim skirt from an African designer, and purchased a CD of Zouk music from Congo (the gentleman next to me was Congolese), I felt like the festival definitely aligns with who Zora was.
She was global, a writer and thinker who could see the connection from Florida work camp songs and Negro spirituals to Haitian spiritual practice and herbal medicine.
We are all connected and the art and cultural pieces at the festival, as well as the diversity of the people, represent an opportunity for us to remember how we are family. A dispersed family, but with some roots in common.
Our walk through the festival today was wonderful and fun. And I will keep sharing stories and music and art with my children so they can see how they are connected as well to the African diaspora.