Editor’s Note: The radio play will broadcast nationally on public radio in September. A full list of The Greene Space events celebrating the 75th anniversary of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is available here.
By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
New York (CNN) – When reading Zora Neale Hurston’s seminal literary work,”Their Eyes Were Watching God”– the coming of age love story that chronicles Janie Crawford’s search for self– the musicality of the language tickles the ear. In this excerpt, Tea Cake reassures his wife Janie of his love for her:
Whut wud Ah do with that lil chunk of woman wid you around? She ain’t good for nothin’ exceptin’ tuh set up in uh corner by de kitchen stove and break wood over her head. You’se something tuh make uh man forgit tuh git old and forgit tuh die.
It seems fitting, then, that a 75th year celebration of the novel includes the first American radio play adaption in New York.
Narrated by Emmy and Tony-Award Winner Phylicia Rashad, Hurston’s words danced and swayed in The Greene Space, a multimedia venue, punctuated by sound effects and music.
“The Help’s” Roslyn Ruff, Tony-Award winner Leslie Uggams, and a host of award winning actors unpacked Janie’s journey toward identity and independence in the nearly three hour performance Wednesday night.
Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson also acted in the radio play performance.
“Their Eyes beautifully captures the essence, language, life and stories of Black people and celebrates them. Creating a radio drama of this poetic and powerful text is a huge undertaking and I believe that we are in the process of creating an experience not soon to be forgotten,” he said in a statement.
Hurston wrote what would become her masterpiece, in seven weeks, while doing fieldwork in Haiti.
“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions, ” Hurston wrote to her friend Countee Cullen in 1943.
In 1960, she died poor, her efforts largely forgotten. Later, her work was resurrected, primarily due to the efforts of author Alice Walker.
Now, Hurston is celebrated annually at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival in Eatonville, Florida. Indira Etwaroo, Executive Producer of The Greene Space, and producer of The Hurston Series, “broke down” when she visited the authors grave in preparation of the anniversary series.
“It’s incredible to me that a woman in 1937, wrote such a fierce female character,” said Etwaroo. “It seemed so prophetic that then this woman could speak to the timelessness of how we discover self…75 years later it is still resonating, it is still true.”