AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming a Space, a new in-depth biography of the influential author whose groundbreaking anthropological work would challenge assumptions about race, gender and cultural superiority that had long defined the field in the 19th century.
Directed and written by WIFVNE member Tracy Heather Strain, produced by Randall MacLowry and executive produced by Cameo George, the film premieres on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on Tuesday, January 17, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.
Raised in the small all-Black Florida town of Eatonville, Zora Neale Hurston studied at Howard University before arriving in New York in 1925. She would soon become a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, best remembered for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. But even as she gained renown in the Harlem literary circles, Hurston was also discovering anthropology at Barnard College with the renowned Franz Boas. She would make several trips to the American South and the Caribbean, documenting the lives of rural Black people and collecting their stories. She studied her own people, an unusual practice at the time, and during her lifetime became known as the foremost authority on Black folklore.
“Zora Neale Hurston has long been considered a literary giant of the Harlem Renaissance, but her anthropological and ethnographic endeavors were equally important and impactful,” says AMERICAN EXPERIENCE executive producer Cameo George. “Her research and writings helped establish the dialects and folklore of African American, Caribbean and African people throughout the American diaspora as components of a rich, distinct culture, anchoring the Black experience in the Americas.”
Tracy Heather Strain (Director/Writer/Producer), president and co-founder of the Film Posse, is an award-winning filmmaker. Strain directed, wrote and produced Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, her feature documentary about Lorraine Hansberry, which made its television debut on AMERICAN MASTERS and won a Peabody Award, an NAACP Image Award for Motion Picture Directing (Television) and the American Historical Association’s John E. O’Connor Award. A two-time Emmy-nominated filmmaker, her other directing and producing credits include “When the Bough Breaks” for the duPont Columbia Award-winning series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? and “The Story We Tell” for Race: The Power of an Illusion. She directed, wrote and produced “Bright Like a Sun” and “The Dream Keepers” for Blackside’s six-part series I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African American Art, which won a Peabody Award and Organization of American Historians’ Erik Barnouw Award. Her other AMERICAN EXPERIENCE credits include producer/director of Building the Alaska Highway; writer/director/producer of American Oz; producer of Silicon Valley; and coordinating producer of The Feud, The Swamp, The Battle of Chosin, The Mine Wars and The Rise and Fall of Penn Station. Strain is the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University.