Nov 16 2010

JUMP AT THE SUN screening at Disney for Teachers

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.


Sep 28 2010

Zora to make The Southern Circuit film tour

JUMP AT THE SUN has won a position in the Southern Circuit lineup for 2010-11. 

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.


May 27 2010

Zora in Santa Monica & the Deedle Deedle Dees

Jump at the Sun had a private screening at Santa Monica College on May 18 for David Burak’s English class, and was sponsored by the SMC English Dept, Black Collegians Club, SMC Associates, SMC Communication Dept, and Asian-American Pacific Islander Achievement.  I was blown away by the students, almost 30,000 total at this fascinating school.  A cross-cultural collection in attendance, they embraced Zora’s independence, her Black Nationalism, her love of self and culture.  What a beautiful campus in a breathtaking city, perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  Zora Neale Hurston had visited California in 1940, driving all the way from Florida, and she wrote about her time there, working briefly for Paramount Pictures.  She visited her friend, dancer Katherine Mershon, up in the mountains.  For someone whose idea of way up high is the Chinaberry tree in her hometown of Eatonville, she was blown away by the constant climbing.

English teacher David Burak has been described as an “activist” and a former “protestor” and I liked his engaging and questioning spirit immensely.  He should be crowned Mayor of the College, or at least given an honorary parking pass if they haven’t already.  It was very nice of David to throw in a little smog when I took his photo.

And while Jump at the Sun was busy visiting the Left Coast, the Deedle Deedle Dees paid Zora homage in an interesting little ditty at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, a burg of Brooklyn NY.


May 13 2010

Heeeeeey. How ya’ doinnnnn?

The words came from Maya Angelou in the film JUMP AT THE SUN as she described the “sweet language” or la langue doux, an Africanism that has found its way into our own language. Angelou heard it in the South.

I found myself wondering why Zora never went to Africa.

PBS viewer David Hardy, a software design engineer from Idaho, wanted to know more about  la langue doux (spelling based on Angelou’s spoken words).  So he did some research and came up with these interesting comments on his blog.


May 5 2010

News from Zora Neale Hurston’s gravesite

When Zora Neale Hurston died, both of her publishers provided money for a gravestone that never materialized.

The Hurston Trust has intimated that Zora didn’t want a headstone but Zora always loved being acknowledged with all the glory one could heap on her. And in that fashion, the city of Ft. Pierce has commissioned an artist to create a new memorial for her at the grave site. There are panels on it, one depicting roses, stating those were her “favorite flowers”. I’d never heard that. She was always mailing hatboxes full of citrus blooms to her patron Charlotte Mason, which surely sent both the NY and FL post offices into a tizzy of delirium.  What a glorious smell that is!

Sadly this new memorial does not appear to correct the erroneous dates of Zora’s lifespan, as attributed incorrectly but nobly by Alice Walker in the 70s on a gravestone placed on Zora’s previously unmarked grave, acknowledging a much under-appreciated life (don’t blame Alice if Zora lied about her age). Perhaps I’ll bring my magic marker with me on my next trip to Ft. Pierce for some well-placed graffiti.