Jump At the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston and Her Eatonville Roots

Workshop Details

Project Director:
Ann Schoenacher
July 7 - 13, 2013 and July 14 - 20, 2013
Location: Rollins College, Winter Park, FL
Lead Scholar: Dr. Heather Russell, Professor of English, Florida International University, Miami.   Russell holds a Ph.D. in Literature from Rutgers and specializes in African American literature, Caribbean literature, black feminist theory, and narratology. 

Please note: this workshop requires a completely different application process than our other workshops.


Dear Colleague,

The Florida Humanities Council (FHC) invites educators from across the United States to join distinguished historians, folklorists, and literary scholars for a week-long workshop, Jump at the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston and her Eatonville Roots. Just ten miles north of Orlando, Eatonville lies in the shadow of the world's largest theme park. Surrounded by five lakes and acres of orange groves, the oldest incorporated black municipality in the United States is where Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), writer, folklorist, anthropologist, and arguably the most significant collector and interpreter of Southern African American culture spent her childhood. It was a "pure Negro town...where the only white folks were those who passed through," Hurston wrote about the town, which provided the folktales, characters, and events that inspired her literary works and folklore expeditions.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, Eatonville is a place of great significance on three levels: its history as the oldest incorporated black municipality; its association with Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God; and the continuity of its traditional culture. The town and its surrounding areas attracted freedmen and their families from as far west as Mississippi and as far north as South Carolina. They came to find work clearing land; planting crops; and building houses, hotels, and the railroad. Hurston's family was among the town's earliest citizens, having moved there from Alabama around 1893. Her father, John Hurston, was elected mayor of Eatonville three times and is credited with writing the local laws. According to author Alice Walker, "...everything Zora Neale Hurston wrote came out of her experience of Eatonville."


Daily life in Eatonville was recounted in Hurston's first fieldwork as an anthropologist. Her best known folklore collection, Mules and Men (1935), included black music, games, oral lore, and religious practices reflective of her early life growing up in Eatonville. Hurston's ethnographic study of her racial heritage influenced several Harlem Renaissance writers, and later such contemporary authors as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.

Eatonville provides a fascinating vantage point for examining black life and social structures in the South after the Civil War. To paraphrase Hurston, how did these self-governed Negro towns differ from the "black back-side of some white-folks' town"? Is it merely coincidental that this historic town brought forth one of America's most fascinating and provocative writers, a writer who provides us with a new perspective on race?

These weeklong seminars will bring together a distinguished team of humanities scholars who will provide an interdisciplinary exploration of Hurston's life and work. They include literary scholars; folklorists, dramatists, archivists, and art historians. Participants will examine Hurston's accomplishments within the context of the historical and cultural development of the Eatonville community. They will grapple with compelling questions about how this unique black enclave fueled Hurston's appreciation of folk culture, inspired her literary works, created her racial identity, and formed her sometimes controversial views on race.


Each day of the week-long seminar is designed around a set of questions and readings to be explored and discussed with the lead scholar, Dr. Heather Russell, as well as with other noted scholars and writers. Dr. Russell is a Professor of Literature at Florida International University, Miami. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature from Rutgers University and specializes in African American literature, Caribbean literature, black feminist theory, and narratology.  The author of Legba's Crossing:  Narratology in the African Atlantic, Dr. Russell is currently at work on her second book, titled:  Popular Culture, Gender, and Economy in the Caribbean.

On the first day of the workshop the lead scholar will provide participants with an overview of the week, introduce the optional curriculum project, and provide the intellectual rationale for activities of the week, paying particular attention to the importance of place in history and literature and how place can enhance our critical perspectives on literary works. During the course of the seminar week, participants will take a walking tour of Eatonville; travel to Fort Pierce, where Hurston spent her final years and is buried; examine Hurston documents at the Rollins College Archives; "meet" Hurston in a Chautauqua-style one-woman performance; and attend a theatrical presentation featuring the songs and stories that Hurston collected in Central Florida.

Topics for the week-long workshop will include:

Hurston's Eatonville Roots

Although most of the physical buildings of Hurston's Eatonville have been lost to encroaching development, the memory of the historical place remains intact through the few remaining historical sites and through the work of Everett Fly, the first African American to earn a degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University. Teachers will spend a day in Eatonville, visiting such sites as the St. Lawrence AME Church (site of an exquisite collection of original paintings that depict the 23rd Psalm from the Southern black perspective and in Southern dialect), the Thomas House (whose structure has been used alternately as a private home, a library, a church, and a jook joint and is on-line for restoration), and the Matilda Moseley House (the beautifully restored home where Hurston's girlhood friend had lived and where the author stayed when she came back to visit in Eatonville). Historian Dr. Julian Chambliss will place Eatonville in the context of the American South during the periods of Reconstruction and the New South, and participants will investigate primary documents, historic maps, and photographs collected during a survey of Eatonville for the Historic Register. Participants will also interact with a panel of Eatonville residents who will discuss how the town's traditional culture lives on today through a variety of cultural activities and institutions. Phyllis McEwen, independent scholar, Chautauquan, and poet, will portray Hurston, discussing her childhood in Eatonville and telling the stories and singing the songs Hurston collected during her work with the WPA in Florida.

Inspiration for Hurston's Racial and Gender Identity, Folkloric Research, and Literary Work

Valerie Boyd, Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia, will discuss her 2004 Hurston biography Wrapped in Rainbows. Ms. Boyd will explore her work as a biographer, excavate and articulate Hurston's life, and compare the biography to an earlier literary biography written by Robert Hemenway. Drs. Russell, Boyd, and McEwen will lead small-group discussions of Hurston's novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, delving into such questions as: How did Hurston use personal experience in her fictional work? How did training as a folklorist inform this novel? Could this work be described as a feminist novel? Why were Richard Wright and other black intellectuals of the day so critical of this novel and its characterizations of black people?

The Harlem Renaissance and the WPA

Dr. Russell will guide participants in an examination of the role Hurston played in the Harlem Renaissance and her relationships with some of the leading lights of that movement. They will explore a variety of issues that arose in Hurston's life during this period, including her feuds with other black intellectuals of the day, her use of folklore and the black idiom in her novels, and her struggle to integrate her academic research and training and her literary ambitions.

A senior archivist from the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress will talk about Hurston's work with the Florida Writers Project (FWP) and the important contributions she made to the efforts to collect and preserve black culture in the "jook joints" and turpentine camps of Florida. Many of these contributions will be examined via the Library of Congress' "American Memory" website, which contains much of Hurston's collected work.

Hope McMath, Director, and Holly Keris, Curator, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, will discuss Florida's little-known connection to the Harlem Renaissance through James Weldon Johnson and Augusta Savage and other nationally-known artists of the period. 

Locating the Black Vernacular and Taking Intellectual Responsibility

Dr. Houston Baker, Author and Distinguished University Professor of Literature, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee,  will explain vernacular theory, in particular, the relevance of what he calls "the Blues matrix" that informs African American literary expression.  In a second session, he will discuss "the dilemma of the black intellectual" and "teaching local difference," and how these concepts signify in: Hurston's and Wright's work, scholarly accounts, and in our own pedagogical instruction.

Fort Pierce: From Halcyon Days to Obscurity

Participants will spend a day on Florida's East Coast in Fort Pierce, where Hurston moved in 1957 and lived until her death in 1960. They will tour the Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail, which includes Lincoln Academy (where Hurston taught), her last home, and finally her grave site. Participants will compare Hurston's early life in Eatonville to her later life in Fort Pierce; explore some of Hurston's last and unpublished works and the historical and literary reasons she lived her last year in obscurity; and examine the changing racial climate of the time and how Hurston's viewpoints on race, especially Brown vs. Board of Education, placed her at odds with civil rights leaders of her day.

Additional Activities

Dr. Maurice O'Sullivan, Kenneth Curry Professor of Literature, Rollins College, will introduce participants to the Hurston papers archived in Special Collections at the Rollins College Library and discuss Hurston's relationship with Rollins College.

Dr. Jill Jones, Associate Professor of English, Rollins College, will present a pedagogical method, using "Sweat," a Hurston short story first published in 1926 and described by Robert Hemenway as "a remarkable work, her best fiction of the period." Using "Sweat" as a model, Jones discusses how teachers can stimulate students' thinking not only about race, culture, and community, but also about Hurston's narrative techniques and how she creates voice and authority in her works. 

Participants will watch a theatrical presentation based on the stories and songs from Hurston's folklife collections written especially for the Jump at the Sun seminar.

Participants will view Jump at the Sun, one of six films in the 2008 EMMY award-winning PBS American Masters series, and may have the opportunity to discuss the documentary with the writer and producer, Kristy Andersen. 

Participants will also tour the Maitland Art Center, where they will view the exhibit Connecting Jules André Smith and Zora Neale Hurston: Maitland and Eatonville as Joining Communities.

Readings and Optional Projects

Approximately a month prior to the workshops, participants will receive a copy of one of the primary texts, Wrapped in Rainbows: the Life of Zora Neale Hurston. The other primary text, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is popular and easily available, so participants are asked to secure their own copy.  An anthology of readings compiled by the lead scholar and suggested by the other presenters (including primary works by Hurston) will be posted on a password protected site.  All readings, including Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, should be completed before participants arrive for the workshop. During the week, participants will have time to create lesson plans or curriculum projects that incorporate knowledge gained during the workshop into classroom material for students. Creativity is encouraged, and participants will be encouraged to produce projects that can be used in their own classrooms. Participants may work in small groups of up to three people.

In-service Credit

At the completion of each workshop, the Florida Humanities Council will present participants with a certificate of completion certifying them for 35 in-service points. Graduate credit is not available for this workshop.



Each workshop begins on Sunday afternoon and ends the following Saturday around noon. In your application, please indicate your order of preference regarding weeks that you would like to attend.

Week 1: July 7 - 13, 2013
Week 2:  June 14 - July 20, 2013


The workshops will take place on the campus of Rollins College, a liberal arts college situated in Central Florida. The tree-lined campus, with its Spanish Mediterranean-style buildings, is nestled in the quaint community of Winter Park along the shores of Lake Virginia. Founded in 1885, it is the oldest recognized college in Florida and is located only minutes away from Eatonville and Maitland, sites of two of our field trips. At Rollins, participants will have access to a modern library and up-to-date computer facilities. For more information about the campus, visit the Rollins website at http://www.rollins.edu/.


This program is open to public, private, and home-school teachers, and to selected school personnel. (See the application information for more details.) Teachers and administrators from all grade levels and disciplines (e.g., history, social studies, literature, foreign languages, theatre, art, music, science, and mathematics) are encouraged to apply.

Stipend, Accommodations, Budget

Each participant will receive a stipend of $1,200 to help cover the costs of food, lodging, travel, books, and other materials.  (Stipends are taxable.) Single-occupancy rooms in a residence hall are available at Rollins College, our host institution, for approximately $50 a night. All workshop participants will be charged approximately $200 for a campus meal plan for the entire week, including an occasional meal off-campus.  Books and materials will cost approximately $60 per person, and a college ID will cost about $4.  If participants choose to stay off-campus, Rollins College will charge a campus-use fee of $100.  With participants' consent, FHC will retain these costs - between $400 and $600, depending on your arrangements -- directly from the stipend; the remainder will be paid directly to you at the conclusion of the workshop.

I look forward to welcoming you to Winter Park and historic Eatonville. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.


Ann Simas Schoenacher
Project Director
Jump at the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston and her Eatonville Roots
Florida Humanities Council
599 Second St. S
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

This project is funded through a Landmarks in American History and Culture grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program and website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

The title of the workshop is used with the permission of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community.

Please Note: The eligibility guidelines and application process for the Zora Neale Hurston seminars are different than all other FHC summer workshops.