Meet the Author and Scholar Who Shares the Life and Legacy of Zora Neal Hurston Through Storytelling
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Meet the Author and Scholar Who Shares the Life and Legacy of Zora Neal Hurston Through Storytelling

(Image: Rae Chesny)

When Rae Chesny (The Zora Girl) was asked to prepare a lecture on Langston Hughes for Michigan State University in 2018, she started to see a familiar name throughout most of her research.

This piqued her interest to do a deeper dive on a writer she already heard of, Zora Neale Hurston. Chesny also noticed that Zora was excluded from the literature and teachings of the Harlem Renaissance. She decided to do something about it.

“It angered me to find out that she was the most prominent woman figure from the Harlem Renaissance, had been Langston Hughes’s best friend until they fell out over a collaboration in 1931, and she had been born in the first all-black incorporated municipality in the history of the United States,” Chesny told BLACK ENTEPRISE.

“On top of that, she was a trained anthropologist in 1927. I was fascinated. So, I decided to add her to that presentation in 2018.”

As she finalized her presentation about Hughes, she decided that Zora deserved a voice too. She took on the role of deeply researching Zora’s life, work, and teachings. Chesny now shares this knowledge with others through her, mostly sold-out, lectures. Her lectures are also on-demand.

Recently, Chesny was the keynote speaker for the Zora Neale Hurston Series hosted by the Eatonville Branch Library during the 33rd Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival in Eatonville, Fla., the hometown of Zora.

Why Zora?

“It was a calling,” says Chesny.

“I found such a deep, personal connection with Zora’s life and journey. I felt compelled to help people everywhere learn about her.”

Chesney’s specific lectures on Hurston include the following:

– Zora Neale Hurston: The Story of the Storyteller

– Zora Neale Hurston: Eatonville Around the World

– Zora Neale Hurston: Queen of the Harlem Renaissance

Chesny is working on her forthcoming book Dear Zora: A Collection of Intimate Notes, Letters and Dreams From One Writer to Zora Neale Hurston, While on Her Journey To Becoming.

The book is a collection of intimate journal entries that shares Chesny’s profile of Zora and the connection of the human experience of both the author and subject. The book documents and details Chesny’s journey and life on becoming a Zora Neale Hurston Scholar and writer in her own right. It also contains context and annotations on Zora-related facts offering readers an opportunity to learn more about the prolific author.

As an author, award-winning social education expert, and scholar, Chesny also wants to give encouragement to writers who are historically underrepresented in the publishing world through her own work and showcasing the work of historical figures such as Zora.

(Courtesy Rae Chesny)

When Chesny prepared to write her book, Dear Zora, she decided to do something unheard of. Instead of solely releasing the book entitled Dear Zora: A Collection of Intimate Notes, Letters and Dreams From One Writer to Zora Neale Hurston, While on Her Journey To Becoming, she wanted to take her readers on the journey with her.

She  decided to publish the unfinished manuscript for the public to read. The manuscript is published as Dear Zora: Work in Progress Edition, and is available on Amazon. The finalized book Dear Zora: A Collection of Intimate Notes, Letters, and Dreams From One Writer to Zora Neale Hurston, While on Her Journey To Becoming will be released Spring 2022.

With this innovative style of publishing and unique connection to Zora, Chesny hopes that readers will find the courage to write stories of their own and gain insight into the publishing process. She hopes this publishing experiment will directly contribute to diversity in the publishing industry.

To keep readers and fans connected she created a Facebook Group called Work in Progress Literary Club. Here, members can engage directly with Chesny, learn about her writing process, and receive special access to excerpts from the book. Work in Progress Literary Club members’ feedback will directly contribute to the finalized version of her book.

Dear Zora: Work in Progress Edition is now available on Amazon Kindle.

Chesny says she is also bringing Zora to life in a new way.

“Along with continuing the “Work in Progress” project of “Dear Zora” and completing and publishing the book this spring, I plan on bringing the amazing life of Zora Neale Hurston to children with a children’s book.”

She continues: “The children’s book I write will engage children and allow them to learn about one of Zora’s favorite activities, gardening. In addition, I hope the book will pique their interest in storytelling and writing. The book will also offer an opportunity for extension into the real world with fun hands-on activities that can be done in virtually any setting. The activities will utilize the same methodologies from my other social education programs. In addition, I will continue to educate others on the beautiful life and legacy of Zora Neale Hurston.”

To learn more, visit the following:

Book: Dear Zora: Work in Progress Edition

Website: Rae Chesny: The Zora Girl

Instagram: Rae Chesny


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