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Bethune-Cookman University Hosts Rags to Riches: Zora Neale Hurston Writers’ Conference


Daytona Beach, FL- B-CU is hosting the Rags to Riches: Zora Neale Hurston Writers' Conference and kicked off with keynote speaker, Tananarive Due, author of "My Soul to Keep," this afternoon in the Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center (PAC). The week of activities began with remarks by Bethune-Cookman University’s First Lady Daisy Grimes, who offered insight into the ties Dr. Bethune had with Zora Neale Hurston, the conference’s celebrated author and Harlem Renaissance luminary. Dr. Jan Boulware also offered a historical perspective.

Esteemed author and Tallahassee native is known for novels such as Devil’s Wake, Ghost Summer and My Soul to Keep, the Essence magazine bestseller that won raves from Stephen King.

“I loved this novel “wrote King, master of the supernatural genre. “It's really big and really satisfying, an eerie epic that bears favorable comparison to Interview with A Vampire. Ms. Due accomplishes the hardest thing of all with deceptive ease, creating characters we care about on their most human level. I read it non-stop.” 

That’s the reason for the Conference, the culmination of a long-ago shared vision. “Mrs. Bethune has invited me to establish a school of dramatic arts based on pure Negro expression at her school in Daytona Beach. I have accepted,” Hurston wrote to her friend, author and Harlem Renaissance patron Carl Van Vechten, in 1934. The goal was authentic imagery, one that would be truly, “gorgeously Negro,” in that era’s terminology.

Hurston’s contributions will continue on Tuesday in the Carl Swisher Library on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU), with “Hurston’s Marathon.” University students and faculty are set to take part in a nonstop reading of letters Hurston wrote, while teaching at then Bethune-Cookman College, in 1933, and her short stories. Recordings of the Marathon will be donated to the Zora Neale Hurston Museum in Hurston’s hometown, Eatonville, Florida. After Wednesday’s program of reading to kindergarten classes in an area school, Thursday, February 1, 2018 events begin in the PAC at 11:00 a.m. and include writing workshops led by C. P. Patrick, who also will be Friday’s Keynote Speaker.

Patrick, a native of West Palm Beach who earned her Master of Arts in African Studies from Ohio State University and law degree from Stetson University College of Law, is the author of Dear Ancestors: poems & reflections on the african diaspora and The Truth About Awiti. That novel is a lyrical fantasy: that hurricanes swirling westward from the coast of Africa embody the restless spirits affected by the African slave trade. The San Francisco Book Review called it “a five-star literary work.”

Patrick will speak at the B-CU Performing Arts Center following the 11:00 a.m. Jazz Brunch, which will feature student performers. Her Keynote ends the literary portion of the Conference, but not all of its creative celebrations.

New York-based filmmaker Jonathan Hall will be on hand to discuss his movie, Whose Streets. Friday’s events stretch into the late afternoon with a performance by Black on Black Rhyme, the Tallahassee troupe that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The founder of Black on Black Rhyme, Keith Rodgers, can’t say exactly what will happen when he and up to six other troupe members, one of them a singer, take the stage around 4 p.m. on Friday, February 2, 2018. “I never know what I’m going to do. It’s always different – I might do the same poem ten times and it might be ten different ways,” he said. The show will involve a lot of spontaneity, from his own readings to giving audience members something to do, something to say.

“But I do know that it will be quite creative, quite mind-sparking,”Rodgers said. The Conference will be an action-packed week of literary excitement at Bethune-Cookman University. Admission is free to all events at the Zora Neale Hurston Writers’ Conference, on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University, 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd., Daytona Beach, Florida. For more information, e-mail or call 386-481-2000.

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Ursula James
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About Bethune Cookman University:

Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement.  B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000.  For more information, visit

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