The Walking Dead is a smash television hit this season: an apocalyptic event has created flesh-eating zombies with rotting brains. Drooling, stumbling, mumbling monsters, out to eat the flesh of anyone they encounter.
Zombification is real, although in no way resembling the zombies in The Walking Dead.
Once Haiti’s answer to capital punishment, zombies lived in a hell on earth. As Zora wrote in her 1938 book Tell My Horse (titled Voodoo Gods in the British edition), evil bocoor administered a drug that induced a state of “suspended animation”. The victim has no life functions, not even a pulse, appearing to be dead.
Zombification was documented in Wade Davis’ book The Serpent and the Rainbow with many case histories, especially in Japan where blow-fish is common food fare. It contains the poison that creates zombification. People on gurneys in morgues appeared dead but later came back to life. Once they were conscious, they said they could hear but could not move, and would listen as people described or discussed them as they were presumed dead.
The question of whom to zombify corresponded with the need for workers to pick crops in the fields (the zombies were carted away across the miles and were often brain-damaged by the drugs). Zombification is unheard of in today’s Haiti. And in recent months, the country has had to endure other more horrific tragedies, with earthquakes, hurricanes, and cholera.
Zora’s book, Tell My Horse, about religion and culture in Jamaica and Haiti, was released in 1939. Before its release, Zora published her photo of a zombie in LIFE magazine. The woman had been zombified through a drug slipped to her. She had appeared years after her documented death, and was confirmed to be the same person who had previously been buried after a sudden unexplained death.
In Haiti when a victim was presumed to have been poisoned for zombification because of a sudden unexplained death, his or her relatives would drive a stake through the heart so the bodies could not be dug up.
Teachers in the Bronx a couple of weeks ago pondered the life of Zora Neale Hurston at the Casita Maria Educational Center through a screening of Jump at the Sun, my feature film about Hurston’s life. There they discussed how to use Zora’s books as a way to reach their multicultural students in this strongly Latin and African-American community and help them to read and write English.
On Saturday (Nov. 20), JUMP AT THE SUN will be screened at the annual National Council of Teachers of English convention at the Disney Coronado Resort in Lake Buena Vista. This is almost their 100th meeting, as the very first meeting of the NCTE was held on December 2, 1911, in Chicago where 65 educators attended to discuss the role of English on college entrance exams.
With more than 1000 teachers expected to attend, and perhaps as many at a sister conference of the National Writing Project at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, one has to wonder who’s minding the classroom and teaching our children English.
English was the language of our British colonizers, and is the official language of many countries colonized by the Brits. In Pakistan, for instance, where there are dozens of indigenous languages by just as many tribes, the official language is English. All official documents, all official business is in English.
Reading early American writers – Emerson, Thoreau – one gets the impression these writers liked the writing and enjoyed hearing ye olde English – the words, the pronunciations. And why not? It was the language of their ancestors.
That’s why it was important that Zora Neale Hurston (the first writer to use the word “cool”) and her school of writers came along and wrote stories that included the voices of other Americans, those who had never had the benefit of education, former slaves for whom learning to read and write had been forbidden. It was only by learning to read and write English herself that smart and gifted Zora was able to give a voice to the voiceless. The contributions have embellished our English language, making it much more American today than British.
The current twist on teaching English today embraces storytelling by school children whose topics are more likely to include racial or class conflicts, or parents returning from Afghanistan. As the teachers ponder ways to keep children reading and writing amid a huge sea of visual storytelling that includes television, movies, computers, video games, Zora’s old ideas seem even more relevant today.
The Southern Circuit film festival is an older festival devoted to bringing films to a Southern audience. It is a competition and the winning films make the rounds to some distinctively Southern addresses. My film JUMP AT THE SUN has been picked to be one of the films in the Southern Circuit, and in March it will be traveling to some very choice spots, including the BB King Museum in Indianola, MS, Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, The Arts Council in Gainesville, GA, Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in Madison, GA, and Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, TN.
The 2010-2011 Southern Circuit is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and local partner organizations. Special support for Southern Circuit was provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
For a list of all the films, dates, and venues, click here.