Jump at the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston and Her Eatonville Roots 2017

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

zoramainimageiiiAccording to author Alice Walker, “everything author, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston wrote came out of her experience of Eatonville.” Is it merely coincidental that this small historic town brought forth one of America’s most fascinating and provocative writers, a writer who continues to give us a new perspective on race?

Perhaps no other scholar has recorded and preserved the culture and character of her hometown as thoroughly and vividly as Hurston. Join your “Jump at the Sun” colleagues for a week in this community as we examine Hurston’s accomplishments within the context of the historical and cultural development of Eatonville. We will follow in her footsteps by visiting sites preserved from Hurston’s time, hear from an historian who will place Eatonville in the context of the American South during the period of Reconstruction, and interact with long-time area residents.

The week will also include a first-person portrayal of Hurston and a revue of the songs and stories she collected in the juke joints and turpentine camps during her work with the Florida Writers Project — important contributions in the effort to preserve black culture. Exploration of Hurston’s Eatonville will provide linkages to important contemporary issues and discussions about the intersections of class, race, historic preservation, heritage tourism, civic activism, and local politics.


I was born in a Negro town. I do not mean by that the black back-side of an average town. Eatonville, Florida is, and was at the time of my birth, a pure Negro town…It was the first to be incorporated, the first attempt at organized self-government on the part of Negroes in America. –

Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

Ten miles north of Orlando, in the shadow of the world’s largest theme park, surrounded by five lakes and acres of orange groves, lies Eatonville, Florida, the oldest incorporated black municipality in the United States. It is here that 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, indeed, a pure negro town…where the only white folks were those who passed through,” wrote Hurston about the town that provided the folktales, characters, and events that inspired her literary works and folklore collections.

Because Eatonville left such an indelible mark on her identity and imagination, it is not surprising that while records indicate Hurston was born in Alabama and moved to Eatonville by age three, Hurston herself always referred to Eatonville as her place of birth. Her childhood in Eatonville also formed her political and social consciousness.

Throughout her life, Hurston often referred to Florida and Eatonville for its rich reservoir of folk culture. Florida was the muse for both her literary and scholarly works which provide a framework with which to examine the complexities of interracial situations within the larger framework of the American racial landscape.

Throughout the workshop participants will have the opportunity to reflect on and discuss their experiences. Teachers will have the opportunity to share ideas for workshop-related projects they will develop and introduce to their students, schools, districts,  and communities.

All teachers who complete this Landmarks workshop will receive a National Endowment of the Humanities completion certificate as well as a Florida Humanities Council in-service completion certificate listing the general purpose and objectives of the workshop. No college credit can be arranged by the NEH or the FHC for participation in this program.

For more on the content, scope, and approach to the material to be covered in this workshop click here.

Accessibility and Special Accommodations

Persons who wish to request disability-related accommodations including sign-language interpreters should contact Laurie Berlin via email: lberlin@flahum.org or phone 727-873-2006.

Requests can be made at any time, but some types of accommodations take several weeks to arrange. Therefore, please contact us as soon as possible. We should be able to provide accommodations requested one month prior to the start of the seminar.

Staff and Scholars


Dr. Jacqueline May is Director of the Florida Humanities Council’s Teaching Florida program. May is a nonprofit program administrator with 26 years of experience focusing on education and cultural organizations. She completed her interdisciplinary Ph.D. with a focus on the humanities and social sciences from Florida Atlantic University in 2014 and also earned certificates in Ethnic Studies and Holocaust Studies. In her capacity as Director of the Teaching Florida program, May has developed and delivered numerous programs on a wide array of subjects and at various locations for teachers across Florida. 727-873-2010 jmay@flahum.org

Ann Schoenacher, Director Emeritus of the Teaching Florida program will serve as the onsite coordinator. Schoenacher has worked with the teacher program since 1996 and has extensive experience designing and coordinating humanities seminars for K-12 teachers. She has served as the project director for FHC Landmarks workshops in four previous years.

Laurie Berlin, Director of Administration of the Florida Humanities Council will serve as the program assistant. 727-873-2006 lberlin@flahum.org


Dr. Heather Russell will serve as the lead scholar for “Jump at the Sun.” She is an associate professor of literature at Florida International University and holds a Ph.D. in literature from Rutgers University (1997), specializing in African-American literature, Caribbean literature, and black feminist theory. Russell has also served as the lead scholar of several seminars on the Harlem Renaissance for FHC and is the author of Legba’s Crossing: Narratology in the African Atlantic.

Dr. Valerie Boyd, Ph.D. is the author of Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, an acclaimed work for which she was awarded a 1999 fellowship from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation of Brown University. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College. She is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Julian Chambliss is an associate professor of history at Rollins College. His areas of expertise are United States urban history, race and ethnicity, African-American history, the New South, and urban planning history. Chambliss is the past-President of the Florida Conference of Historians, a board member for the Society for City and Regional Planning History, and Co- Chair of the Social Science History Association’s Urban Network. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Florida (2004).

Dr. John Wharton Lowe is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Georgia. He earned his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Lowe is the recipient of the MELUS Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Ethnic American Literatures, and has authored and edited numerous books in Ethnic American and Southern literature.

Dr. Jill Jones is an associate professor of English at Rollins College and her teaching interests include 19th and 20th century American literature, African-American literature, women writers, and autobiography. She is the editor of The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Journal of Florida Literature and author of Deconstructing Race in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Tufts University (1995).

Dr. Maurice O’Sullivan is a professor of English at Rollins College and holds both an MA and Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. He specializes in 18th-century English literature, minority literature, popular culture, poetry, and Florida studies. He authored “Zora Neale Hurston at Rollins,” a chapter in Zora in Florida (1991) and has facilitated numerous weeklong teacher workshops for FHC.

N.Y. Nathiri is Director of Multi-Disciplinary Programs for The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community which sponsors the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts, an internationally-recognized event that brings more than 100,000 people to Eatonville annually. Nathiri holds a degree in history from Ithaca College and a MS in library science from Syracuse University. She has edited an award-winning book, Zora Neale Hurston: A Woman and Her Community (1991), and was the recipient of a “Hero of Preservation” award (1996) from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Phyllis McEwen is an accomplished Chautauquan and has portrayed Zora Neale Hurston since 1990 for the Florida Humanities Council. McEwen recently taught the course “The Major Works of Zora Neale Hurston” as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College and a MS in library and information studies from Atlanta University where she also completed additional graduate work in Africana Studies.

Landmarks to be visited

Eatonville, Florida was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. It is a place of great significance on three levels: its history as the oldest incorporated black municipality in the United States (1887), its association with Zora Neale Hurston, and the continuity of its traditional culture. Of approximately 100 black towns organized by newly-freed enslaved blacks in the U.S. between 1865 and 1900, fewer than twelve of these towns survive today. Hurston’s family was among the town’s earliest citizens, moving from Alabama around 1893.

The town provides an instructive vantage point from which to examine black life and social structures in the south between the Civil War and the Civil Rights era. Black settlements at this time fostered a unique culture and Hurston’s literature and scholarship focus a lens on the tension African Americans faced everyday as they strove to integrate into mainstream culture while maintaining their identity.

Eatonville site visits include:

  • St. Lawrence AME Church
  • Matilda Moseley House
  • Eatonville Town Hall
  • The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts

Fort Pierce site visits include:

  • Dust Tracks Heritage Trail
  • Hurston’s final home
  • Hurston’s grave site

Program Schedule

Day OneDay TwoDay ThreeDay FourDay FiveDay SixDay Seven

Day One (half day) Workshop Orientation and Overview – Draft subject to change

Scholar: Heather Russell, lead scholar

Following registration, lead scholar, Dr. Heather Russell, will provide participants with an overview of the week’s activities and the overarching themes that will form the basis of the workshop’s investigation of Hurston. Russell will focus on the importance of “place” in history and literature and how “place” can enhance our critical perspectives on literary works. After dinner and a campus tour, participants will view “Jump at the Sun,” a PBS American Masters documentary about the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston.

Day Two Hurston’s Eatonville Roots – Walking and Bus Tour – Draft subject to change

Scholars: Heather Russell, N.Y. Nathiri, Julian Chambliss

Dr. Julian Chambliss, Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of the African American Studies Program at Rollins College will explore the founding of Eatonville, the context of other post-Civil War race colonies created in the American South during the period of Reconstruction, emphasizing how these settlements created black citizens capable of social, economic and political uplift in an era of marginalization. He will use historic maps, photographs and documents to build an understanding of how Eatonville evolved physically and culturally.

Teachers will spend the afternoon in Eatonville, visiting significant sites that include the St. Lawrence AME Church, the Thomas House, and the Matilda Moseley House. Joining the teachers will be N.Y. Nathiri, Director of Multi-disciplinary Programs for the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. Dr. Russell will facilitate a panel of long-time Eatonville residents who will join the teachers to discuss how Eatonville’s traditional culture, in particular the tenets of self-determination, racial pride, spirituality, and civic responsibility still live on today. After dinner, Phyllis McEwen, scholar and Chautauqua performer, will portray Hurston. In this first-person performance, Hurston remembers her childhood in Eatonville and shares the folklore she collected from her hometown.

Day Three Inspiration for Hurston’s Racial and Gender Identity, Folkloric Research and Literary Work – Draft subject to change

Scholars: Heather Russell, Valerie Boyd, and Phyllis McEwen

During the morning session, Hurston biographer, Valerie Boyd, will present her acclaimed 2004 biography, Wrapped in Rainbows. She will explore her work as a biographer, excavating and articulating Hurston’s life, and will compare her biography to an earlier text written by Robert Hemenway. In addition, she will explain how growing up in Eatonville shaped Hurston’s ideas about race, gender, and class and how ideological factors impacted Hurston’s career during the 1930s and 1940s. The affect of emerging civil rights and black nationalist movements of the 1950s and 60s on Hurston’s critical reception and work and the resurrection to explain why Hurston’s work in the 1970s. After lunch, Valerie Boyd and Phyllis McEwen will join participants and scholars and be divided into three small groups to discuss Their Eyes Were Watching God. The groups will discuss such questions as: How did Hurston use personal experience in her fictional work? How did training as a folklorist inform this novel? Why were Richard Wright and other black intellectuals of the day so critical of this novel?

Day Four “Poking and Prying with a Purpose:” Hurston as folklorist – Draft subject to change

Scholars: Heather Russell, Staff of the Florida Memory Site, Dr. Peggy Bulger

The morning begins with an examination of the political, cultural, and economic factors which helped to produce the Harlem Renaissance, the period during which Hurston achieves public attention and forges important connections with the black and white literary and cultural vanguard. Hurston’s first publications and awards were in the publications of the NAACP, the National Urban League and the UNIA. The session explores Hurston and the Eatonville’s roles played in the Harlem Renaissance. We will address a variety of issues in Hurston’s life during this period, including her feuds with other black intellectuals, her use of folklore and the black idiom in her novels, and her struggle to integrate her academic research and training with her literary ambitions.

The second morning session explores the impressive array of folklore that Hurston collected, including her WPA investigations of turpentine camps, her work songs and folk songs. Peggy Bulger, Director Emeritus of the Folklife Project at the Library of Congress, and the staff of the Florida Memory Project will showcase this folklore and demonstrate how teachers can bring it into their classrooms. After lunch, author and scholar John Wharton Lowe will focus Eatonville’s role in shaping Hurston’s use of religion and comedy in her writing. He will use her biography Dust Tracks on a Road to look at various portrayals of community and will relate Hurston’s use of humor to broader strains of African American humor.

Key elements of this discussion will include folklore, myths and legends, work songs, spirituals, verbal dueling and comic reinscriptions of scripture. He will emphasize how consideration of these issues in the classroom can stimulate student interest in the students and help them to better understand Hurston’s work.

The day concludes with a theatrical presentation created expressly for these workshops entitled “Florida Folk and the Tales They Do.” Mining the rich repository of Hurston’s folklore archived by the Library of Congress, this revue features Chautauquan Phyllis McEwen performing the songs, creation myths, spirituals and comedy that Hurston collected during her tenure with the WPA.

Day Five Pedagogical Possibilities: Re-seeing Hurston’s Works – Draft subject to change

Scholars: Heather Russell, John Wharton Lowe

John Wharton Lowe, Phyllis McEwen, and Heather Russell will host a panel and conversation about the film version of Their Eyes Were Watching God. They will address the criticism that the film abandons the total commitment that Hurston brought to her portrayal of black working-class culture, in particular, her critical concerns about colorism and sexism within the black community. The group will also discuss the pedagogical possibilities which open up in teaching the film and book. After lunch, Russell reflects on how Eatonville and the South affected the development of Zora Neale Hurston as an anthropologist, a folklorist, an author, and a Vodoun practitioner. Hurston’s research on Haiti and Vodoun provides scholars with an important framework through which to re-examine her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The afternoon continues with Rollins College literature professor Dr. Maurice O’Sullivan who will talk about Hurston’s time at the College in the 1930s and guide participants through her archived papers Rollins College Library, Special Collections. Hurston maintained personal friendships with several faculty members and presented two of her black folklore productions in the Campus Recreation Hall. The original programs, along with several reviews from the student newspaper and other supporting materials are housed in the Archives and are used by faculty, students, and the general public to support their learning and research on Hurston.

The afternoon will conclude with Dr. Jill Jones presenting a method for teachers in each of the themes presented in the workshop. She uses Hurston’s short story “Sweat” as a working model and explains how this 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.

Day Six Fort Pierce: From Halcyon Days to Obscurity – Draft subject to change

Scholars: Heather Russell, Lynn Moylan

Participants will spend the final full day of the workshop in Fort Pierce where Hurston lived from 1957 until her death in 1960. They will walk the “Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail” which includes markers at Lincoln Academy where she taught, her last home, and her grave site. After lunch, participants will meet Lynn Moylan, author of Zora Neale Hurston’s Final Decade, a book that includes an account of Hurston’s final years in Fort Pierce. Russell 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 address the reasons she lived her final years in obscurity.

Day Seven (half day) Workshop Wrap-Up and Classroom Applications – Draft subject to change

Scholars: Heather Russell

The last morning will begin with teachers sharing ideas for projects they will introduce to their students, schools, and/or districts. Russell will facilitate a final conversation about the major themes explored throughout the week. Participants will then have an opportunity to hear from a master teacher about classroom applications of the content they’ve discussed and experienced throughout the week. Participants will receive NEH completion certificates and FHC in-service completion certificates before departure.

Eligibility / Stipend / Credits / Costs


Am I eligible to apply for Jump at the Sun?

Jump at the Sun seeks diverse educators from various disciplines including teachers, librarians, and media specialists from public, charter, independent, and religiously affiliated schools, as well as home-schooling parents.

All K-12 educators are invited to apply. To foster creative discussions related to pedagogical approaches, we aim to create a cross-discipline and mixed grade-level cohort for each workshop.

For details on eligibility please review the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmark Eligibility Criteria, here.

Is a stipend offered? If so, what does it cover?

NEH summer scholars receive a stipend … such as travel, books, meals, and, if needed, lodging.

Commuting participants who do not require lodging will receive a stipend of $600 minus the costs outlined below.

Residential participants who incur lodging costs will receive a stipend of $1,200 minus the outlined below. If a participant chooses lodging other than that provided by Rollins College to be eligible for the residential stipend the participant must submit lodging reservations and receipts.

To Be Deducted from Stipend Residential Stipend = $1,200 Commuter = $600
Campus Lodging X
Off-Campus Lodging (reservation info and receipts required for residential stipend qualification) X
Campus Lodging Key X
Campus Access Card X X
Campus Parking (if needed) X X
Group Meals (on and off campus) X X
Miscellaneous Campus Fees X X

Participants with a remaining stipend balance will be issued a check within 2 months of the program’s completion.

May I earn graduate credit for my participation?

All teachers who complete this Landmarks workshop will receive a National Endowment of the Humanities completion certificate as well as a Florida Humanities Council in-service completion certificate listing the general purpose and objectives of the workshop.

No college credit can be arranged by the NEH or the FHC for participation in this program.

Lodging Costs

Description Cost Note
Room access key card $4.00 per person If lost replacement charge is $15.00
Parking pass for those staying on campus $10.00 For the week
Parking pass for commuters attending workshop but not staying on campus $29.00 For the week
Single Dorm Room $35.00 per person Per night
Double Occupancy Dorm $29.00 per person Per night


Description Cost
On campus breakfast Pending Rollins College
On campus lunch Pending Rollins College
On campus dinner Pending Rollins College

Housing and Transportation


Located just three miles east of Eatonville is Rollins College. Hurston developed
friendships with several faculty members in the 1930s and two of her folklore productions were originally presented at the College. These programs along with reviews from the student newspaper and other supporting materials are housed in the Rollins College Library Archives and Special Collections, which teachers participating in the workshop will tour.

Rollins will provide housing in one of its six residence halls, a daily meal plan, full access to library facilities and computer labs, use of the campus theatre, and a fully equipped conference room for presentations by scholars, and informal meetings among teachers.

Workshop Lodging

The Florida Humanities Council will make all lodging arrangements for you.

Participants will be housed in one of Rollins College’s dorms. These facilities include the amenities listed above and a lovely, shared common area for relaxing and creating new memories with your fellow participants.

Rooms will be single occupancy, unless otherwise requested.

Bathrooms and showers are shared, central facilities not en suite or adjoining individual rooms. You will want to bring your robe, towels, shower shoes, and toiletry case. Rubber ducky optional.

This is a true “back to college” lodging situation. Participants will need to provide their own linens (extended twin size beds), pillows, and towels. There are a number of retailers in the vicinity of the college that sell these items if you do not wish to travel with them.

*More information on linen and towel rental will be posted as soon as possible.

We will provide accepted participants with a recommended packing list to make your return to college enjoyable and comfortable.

Lodging Costs

Description Cost Note
Room access key card $4.00 per person If lost replacement charge is $15.00
Parking pass for those staying on campus $10.00 For the week
Parking pass for commuters attending workshop but not staying on campus $29.00 For the week
Single Dorm Room $35.00 per person Per night
Double Occupancy Dorm $29.00 per person Per night


Description Cost
On campus breakfast Pending Rollins College
On campus lunch Pending Rollins College
On campus dinner Pending Rollins College


Participants are responsible for their own transportation to/from Rollins College. All transportation within the workshop will be arranged by the Florida Humanities Council.

How do I Apply

Application materials must be postmarked before the March 1, 2017 deadline.

Visit the following links:

Application Information and Instructions Landmarks 2017
Apply Now

These materials should be mailed to:

Jacqui May
Florida Humanities Council
Att: NEH Zora
599 2nd Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Contact Us

Jacqui May, Ph.D.
Program Director
Email: jmay@flahum.org

Laurie Berlin
Florida Humanities Council Staff Administrator
Email: lberin@flahum.org
Telephone: 727-873-2006