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.


Oct 6 2010

Casita Maria in the Bronx welcomes Zora Neale Hurston and JUMP AT THE SUN

Organized in 1934 in a humble East Harlem apartment, New York’s Casita Maria was a place to provide Hispanic families with the educational support needed in their new homeland.  It was a place where “the young could lead their parents and their community to full participation in the American Dream.” Among the “Casita Kids” alumnus were Tito Puente, Rita Moreno, and Tina Ramirez, the founder of Ballet Hispanico.  The little apartment eventually became the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education and moved from Harlem into the South Bronx.  This past summer, it moved into a brand new beautiful building, complete with a new theatre.

And that’s where Zora comes into the picture.  On November 5, a slew of educators will meet and screen the film and discuss how to use the film and Zora’s books in their classrooms.  I know those teachers and their students will take heed of the films message that their native culture is important, that there’s no need to assimilate into the culture du jour.  Hopefully, we’re past the point when we all need to talk, look, and act alike – after all, America is a big melting pot, which is what keeps us vital and fresh.

Thanks to Carolyn Butts and African Voices Magazine for including the film in her many important undertakings.


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.


Jul 15 2010

Harlem Free Outdoor Screening of Jump at the Sun documentary

The Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem will be the location on July 21 at 8P for a free outdoor evening screening of Jump at the Sun, the PBS’ American Masters presentation of the Bay Bottom News documentary on Zora Neale Hurston.  The event is sponsored by Reel Sisters and Reel Harlem.

Zora and the Slugger, who was the first black baseball player to sign with the Major League in 1947, shared similar politics.  They backed Republicans but used the “cafeteria plan” – picking and choosing which of their politics and politicians they preferred in the party.

Although the park is in Harlem, it was the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed up Robinson not the NY Yankees.  Up until then, black players played in the Negro Leagues.  Robinson’s very fascinating life is detailed in Wikipedia.

I wish I could be there to join you, Jackie, and Zora.  From that article in Wikipedia, it seems they both had the same spunk and spirit, and because of that, this world is a better place.  Please be sure to buy a dvd from my good friend Elaine Beery who will be there in my absence.

For directions to the park, go the Jackie Robinson Park website.


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.