N.Y. Nathiri is the executive director of the Association to Preserve The Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.)
Van Buren: How did Zora! Festival come to be?
Nathiri: In 1987 the power structure in Orange county, didn’t have any idea about Zora Neale Hurston. They didn’t even know that name. They didn’t know her as a literary figure. They didn’t know that in the reading public globally of a certain discernment, Eatonville is a literary destination.
We started planning in the spring of 1988. The first festival was in January of 1990. We did this as a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary project because Zora Neale Hurston did folklore, literature, music, theater and religion. We always look upon this as an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to the arts and the humanities. We weren’t just interested in doing art; we wanted both the right and the left side of the brain represented. We confirmed Ruby Dee, Robert Hemenway, Alice Walker and Augusta Baker. That’s how we got started. And the rest is history.
Van Buren: What inspired you to become apart of the Festival?
Nathiri: I’m what’s called a lifer, Eatonville is my hometown. In other words I am paid staff but I would do this if I were not paid staff. I feel so strongly about what Eatonville represents. I knew about Zora Neale Hurston, but I didn’t really know who she was for real. She was apart of my family lore. My mother’s mother would talk about two people, who happened to be twentieth century American icons, W.E.B Dubois and Zora Neale Hurston. My mother’s mother studied under W.E.B. Dubois. Zora Neale Hurston taught my uncle how to play bridge. I didn’t know her; I just knew her as someone they talked about in the family. I didn’t have any idea who she was as a literary giant.
Van Buren: For those that have never been introduced to Zora Neale Hurston, how would you describe her and explain her significance?
Nathiri: She’s a fantastic storyteller. That’s really the essence of who she is. She used dialect; her genius was in telling these stories even though they came from the lowest stratum of the American society. They had a certain dignity; they were universal in their messages. She served as a platform to tell stories in a number of ways.
Van Buren: What can first time visitors expect attending the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities (ZORA! Festival)?
Nathiri: The festival has an appeal, generally across any number of demographics. We’ve prided ourselves over the years in providing programming for the young, the functional illiterate and the post doctoral professor. There’s literally something for everybody.
Van Buren: Why is it so significant to have a festival such as this?
Nathiri: If you don’t keep telling the story, people will forget it.
For more information about the Association To Preserve The Eatonville Community, Inc. visit: http://preserveeatonville.org/
For information about the “Give Me 5 Campaign!” which offers individuals the opportunity to help strengthen the Zora! Festival legacy visit: Give Me 5 Flyerpdf