At the time of her death in 1960, Zora Neale Hurston, the influential African-American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker, was all but forgotten. Now, Their Eyes Were Watching God is on almost every high school required reading list, thanks, in part, to the writer Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, whose attention helped generate renewed interest in Hurston's pioneering work.
Such is the subject of Live Rich Die Poor: A Zora Neale Hurston Story, the original, one-woman play by actor/playwright Ann Wallace. "There's a saying that the richest place on Earth is the cemetery because there you'll find books that were never written, arias that were never performed," Wallace says.
- Ann Wallace
"So the premise of the story is [Walker] accidentally awakened [Hurston] from her eternal sleep. And Zora, in a way, has forgotten all that she did and all she accomplished. So Alice Walker is saying, 'You lived this rich life.'"
Wallace, a native Memphian with a theater degree from University of Tennessee Chattanooga, admits that this play represents a return to her own creative life. After a stint acting in Chicago, she moved back to Memphis to work in theater, but her life took a turn when she got married and had three children. "My oldest has an autism diagnosis, so I just suspended all my acting and concentrated on raising my children," Wallace says. "In the past five years, I've come back to myself as an actor. And I made peace with the fact that I'm a writer. I've been secretly holding that within myself for so long ... I've wanted to write this story, this one-woman play, for 20 years."
Voices of the South presents Live Rich Die Poor: A Zora Neale Hurston Story by Ann Wallace at First Congregational Church, Friday July 26th, through Saturday, July 27th at 7 p.m., and Sunday, July 28th at 2:30 p.m., $25.