Play Inspiration

Four years ago this February, I visited the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. As fate would have it, a part of the Kinsey Collection was on exhibit there. I walked around with a deep reverence and appreciation for the awesome display of history that filled the room. Soon, I came across some letters from Zora Neale Hurston, and I literally became lost in her prose, her life and her grasp of the African American heart. Somewhere between examining her letter to Albert Price and rereading Moses, Man of the mountain, the idea of this play became more than an idle rumination. A seed was planted. With encouragement from Dr. Ron McCurdy of the USC Thornton School and support from Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, Letters from Zora took root inside of me and bloomed. The result is a spirited play in two acts that consists of authentic letters from Zora Neale Hurston fused with fictional narrative intended to illuminate her life, her extraordinary career and her contributions to the American literary canon. Ms. Hurston’s life in and of itself was a musical soundtrack.

The “live” soundtrack embraces many of the musical styles that existed during Ms. Hurston’s lifetime. The bottleneck blues guitar and harmonica are sounds that were indigenous to the Deep South. We also included music that would depict the driving pulse of the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. All of us who toiled with this project hope that Ms. Zora would approve. A thousand thanks to our director, Professor Anita Dashiell-Sparks, and projection designer, Margie Labadie and the Jumpo Arts Team, our music composer Dr. Ron McCurdy assisted by Jordan Siegel. A special thanks to Vanessa Bell Calloway for opening her heart, taking a leap of faith, and embracing the complex and riveting life of Zora Neale Hurston. We are moving ever forward with Letters from Zora, and we thank you for your support and for making Letters from Zora a tremendous success.

—Gabrielle Denise Pina
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