Today’s adventure took me to the very small town of Eatonville. It may sound familiar, because Eatonville is the hometown of the wonderful author, Zora Neale Hurston. The town was the main setting in her book, There Eyes Were Watching God. I was a bit conflicted about going, because this is my first year in Tampa and apparently there was a huge celebration happening today called Gasparilla. I really love pirates and the thought of ships invading downtown and having pirates parade around the street throwing out beads was very appealing. However, when I heard the city was expecting over 300,000 people to participate in the celebration, my mind changed. I decided my time would be better spent celebrating the life of one of my favorite authors at ZORA! Fest 2015.
I wanted to go to ZORA! Fest last year, but was unable to swing it and I decided this year to make it happen. Even though this was the 26th annual festival, this was my first crack at it. The drive was a little longer than the normal two hours because of the traffic in town for Gasparilla, and of course the ever-present traffic in Orlando. I was excited to arrive at the festival and found parking was a breeze. All you needed was $10 and you could park in a huge lot adjacent to the festival. I didn’t even have to walk that far from the car. I will say this though, please try to remember where you parked, especially if there are no land marks to help you. I will say no more on that subject except that it took less than five minutes to locate the car.
The entrance fee was also $10 each, and we were issued arm bands. I have no idea why we received arm bands; because security at the gate made it clear there was no re-entry. Other than that the festival was well organized. As we entered, there were booths from the community giving advice about health and social matters. As we continued to explore we found a tent sponsored by the local historical society with displays of books for sale and a great timeline of Zora’s life.
We also explored all of the vendor booths that were lined up and down Kennedy Street, which was blocked off from traffic for the event. There were several booths selling pure Shea butter, which made me laugh. Maybe they should limit the number of booths selling the exact same items. I was in heaven when I saw all of the different booths with handmade jewelry, hats, clothes and t-shirts. Not to mention the books and Black Art. There was even a man selling cds. In addition to the retail booths, there was a slew of food vendors on the opposite side of the main stage. Great planning to keep the traffic flowing.
Along the street we ran across the public library named after Zora and The Zora Neal Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for regular tours; however there was an exhibit of art by Bayete Ross Smith entitled Taking Aim in the lobby. The display featured several pictures of ethnic people, including one of a small boy, made into shooting targets complete with bullet holes. The display was very provocative to say the least.
The main focus of the day was on the entertainment which was head lined by Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly. I did not want to pay an additional $40 for a seat so I decided not to stay for the show. Tomorrow the main show will feature Najee.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the 26th Annual ZORA! Fest, and hope to return again. For those of you, who are fans of Zora and missed the festival, don’t fret. The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc is planning a cruise to commemorate what would have been Zora’s 125th birthday. Tracing the Caribbean Footprints of Zora Neale Hurston Cruise will set sail from April 10 – 17, 2016 and will visit Haiti, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Mexico, all places that Zora visited and wrote. For more information or to reserve your spot, please contact Tracy with Robinson Cruise Planners at 1-866-632-8724 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.