Monday, March 21, 2011

Get Out, and Take a Walk

As the Weather Warms, Remember Our Walking Tours from Past "Big Reads"

Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes regularly collaborated
on projects during their time in Washington, DC until they had
a falling out over rights to a play in 1930.
In 2007, the Humanities Council launched its first Big Read, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. That year, Washington, DC read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel of the late Harlem Renaissance which explored racial and gender issues in the American South. The book, now considered a classic and a must-read for any curriculum in African American literature, was criticized in its time for its use of authentic Afro-Carribbean dialect, openness about the divide between light and dark-skinned blacks, and revelations on the status of black women in the rural South.

As part of the 2007 Big Read program schedule, author Kim Roberts produced a walking-tour linking Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance with sites around Howard University, U Street, Le Droit Park, and Shaw. The tour includes background on Hurston's life, and the friendships she made with other African American luminaries during and after her years at Howard. The idea for a walking-tour was such a hit, that it became a regular Big Read staple. Roberts produced subsequent walking tours on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Last year, for Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, Roberts developed an online exhibit about Washington, DC's historic segregated school system.

The tours are all illustrated with maps, and photos, and are the perfect way to connect with Washington's neighborhoods through classic works of literature. Try to do all three tours and check out the online exhibit before the commencement of Live to Read, the Humanities Council's new city-wide read, this year featuring Lynn Nottage's Ruined as the selected work of literature.

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