Monday, September 28, 2009

Voice, Silence, History

Last night I had the pleasure of taking a group of students to see Jump at the Sun. A one-woman performance based on the life of Zora Neale Hurston. The piece is part of a Federal Writers' project education outreach program in partnership with the St. Paul Public Libraries and was performed at Central High School in St. Paul by the phenomenal actress, Regina Williams.

While narrating the trials and triumphs of Neale Hurston, it's also the poignant biography of a writer's life. The love, the work, the pain.

Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!

The play's title, Jump at the Sun, comes from something Hurston's mother told her when she was a child.

Jump at the sun, baby
Jump at the sun

You may not land at the sun

But if you jump you'll get off the ground

Jump is the story of a woman who created despite incredible odds - it's about the way life and truth weave into our stories. As she said "in the end, writers always get even."

Hurston's work was panned by many (mostly white and male) literati of her age; even her male peers in the Harlem Renaissance harshly critiqued her work. Despite her extraordinary craft, Hurston died in poverty in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God in AP English, my senior year of high school (hi Mrs. Heisler!!! Thanks for everything!)

Hearing passages from this book last night brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of her incredible gift for language.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.

What I truly loved about this performance was that it was targeted at high school students. They filled the black box theater, enraptured by the skill of the actress and the power of her words, Hurston's words. I hope they all left filled by that same electric buzz that pulsed through my veins - something I experience when I've been touched by humanity at its best. And I hope they all believed more in themselves because of her:

Those that don't got it, can't show it. Those that got it, can't hide it.

And just in case you were wondering - yes, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a banned book.


  1. I love to learn about a writer I never read before. Hurston's words are powerful. Thank you so much. Sounds like having an actress reading the work really made it come alive. I once had the honor of hearing Maya Angelou, and it was astounding what her voice brings to the words.

  2. One of my favorites. Made me want to be a writer.

  3. Tricia - Maya Angelou is amazing I also love to hear her speak

    Suzanne - Me too!