Celebrating Short Story Month: Zora Neale Hurston with Filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain

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PBS Books, in collaboration with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), is pleased to host a program with award winning Filmmaker, Tracy Heather Strain, who is the Director of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’s ZORA NEALE HURSTON: Claiming A Space on PBS.  A celebrated novelist, anthropologist, essayist, and central figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Zora Neale Hurston wrote numerous short stories and novels, which were greatly influenced by her anthropological work.  Join us to meet filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain and to learn about AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’s ZORA NEALE HURSTON: Claiming A Space, her process to create the work, and gain insights into Zora Neale Hurston.  The film is streamable at pbs.org


Tracy Heather Strain, a two-time Peabody Award-winning, Emmy-nominated director, producer, writer and researcher, is a recipient of the 2022 Chicken & Egg Award. Her film “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and broadcast on American Masters, won Strain an NAACP Image Award for Motion Picture Directing and the American Historical Association’s John E. O’Connor Film Award.

Her additional directing credits include; “American Oz” and “Building the Alaska Highway” for American Experience, “The Stories We Tell” for Race: The Power of an Illusion, “When the Bough Breaks” for Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? and “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 Arts.

Co-founder and president of The Film Posse, Strain also serves as the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University’s College of Film and the Moving Image.


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. 

Directed by Tracy Heather Strain, produced by Randall MacLowry and executive produced by Cameo George, Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming a Space is an 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.

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