Letters for Zora

At Writers Room—a Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences initiative at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships—we explore writing as a tool for learning and a mode of creative expression. This year, we are the proud recipient of an NEA Big Read grant. As a literary arts program, we believe that stories (the ones we read, hear, and tell) forge deeper understandings of our world.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, the NEA Big Read connects our communities, promoting dialogue and strengthening relationships through the joy of sharing a good book. With the help of our NEA Big Read community partners—Free Library of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Reads—our festival will celebrate Zora Neale Hurston and her iconic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Hurston wrote her masterwork in seven weeks and Writers Room has taken up this time frame for our festival as a challenge—to see what we, as a community, will create in response to this remarkable book.

We invite you to contribute to Letters for Zora, our all ages zine that is scheduled to be released at the end of the festival.

Email a scan or photo of your work to hello@www.new.clayburgcreate.com

Or mail it to us at:

Writers Room
c/o Department of English & Philosophy
Drexel University
MacAlister Hall Suite 5044
3250-60 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19194

Please be sure to include your name and contact information.

Deadline for submission: Thursday, October 20, 2016



Zora Neale Hurston wrote her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in seven weeks and we took up this time frame for our NEA Big Read festival as a challenge—to see what we, as a community, could create in response to this remarkable book.

The process of making Letters for Zora has been exhilarating, time-intensive, and deeply personal. In the same spirit, we invite you to explore the work in these pages, which represents some of the many ways ZNH continues to inspire us.

and all of us at Writers Room

KEY NOTES from Drexel's First-Years

On the screen there was a powerful quote from Zora Neale Hurston's novel that stated, "There are years that ask questions and years that answer." I began to think about what that quote meant for a few minutes until the light was reflected onto the stage.
— Alyssa Melincoff

This woman, with her smooth and passionate voice, praised all she loved about Their Eyes Were Watching God, all she loved about 'the classics,' all she loved about literature. She stood there, speaking to an audience of scholars, with that spotlight beaming into her eyes as her eyes beamed back onto the audience. The audience. Me. My classmates. As I listened to the woman's words, I looked around...I took notice of all those who came to listen to her. I took notice of the students videoing her. I took notice of the squeaks of the chairs as the person next to me shifted his weight to hear the words better. I took notice. Soon I was lost in thought. Thinking about how last year, this book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was an option on my reading list...just another book on a list...The woman who spoke so highly of this book had read it when she was my age, and here she is today, still thinking about the words that were written on those pages. She spoke with pride and with a lifetime of love towards something that impacted her. That something is the words written by Zora Neale Hurston.
— Gianna Briglia

Wall took the initiative to speak about what makes a novel "classic" in the eyes of the readers. One thing she noted about this categorization is that "A classic is space in which the spirit works."
— Natasha Filipov

The praise Dr. Wall gave Hurston and her work gave me hope that in the future I would also find a piece of literature that I could relate to and look back on when I needed guidance.
— Tyler McDougall

A quote that Dr. Wall mentions that I like is "there can never be enough beauty, let enough too much."
— Leslie Lopez

Considering today's issues of racially charged police brutality and sexist rape culture, we need Hurston's novel to endure.
— Nicole Weinstein

Shortly after the Q+A, I heard a loud rumble of drums resonate throughout the whole theatre. It was the drumline group known as the West Powelton Drummers, and man, were they good.
— Adam Pace

Then the West Powelton Drummers strolled through the auditorium, disrupting the previous calm, beating their drums through the aisles making their presence known. When they finished up their performance and invited us to a 2nd line parade that would carry us all the way to the Dornsife Center, I was enthusiastic to follow...We wound our way through crowds and active traffic from 32nd and Chestnut to 35th and Spring Garden, attracting stares and more followers with our personal drumline spearheading quite the unexpected parade...The way those guys stayed in step and on beat throughout was a thing of beauty as I stumbled over tree roots and crumbling sidewalks with just my son on my shoulders. Being able to enjoy the city from that perspective was inspiring—you get desensitized to the drone of city life, then you realize how alive it is when you witness it from behind beating drums.
— Justin Pereira

As I walked in the crowd on this beautiful day in Philadelphia, I realized for the first time since moving to the city that this is where I truly belong.
— Sabrina Kagan

Here was a congregation of strangers  from all backgrounds, beliefs, and ways of life who shared a common appreciation for art, culture, and beauty. That night at the lecture and concert was for me a much-needed reminder that no matter what complications may drive us apart, sometimes the simplest way to unite the human race is through a great piece of art.
— Maggie Barnett

I grabbed my skateboard and kicked myself all the way there. The wheels made a sort of muffled buzzing sound as they glided over the pavement, with an occasional jolt from the cracks. The ride gave me time to reflect on different aspects of Janie's journey. I thought about the pear tree, the big storm, the dresses, checkers, and everything else I could remember. As soon as I reached my destination I was struck by a very heavy bass riff, accompanied with a very tight accompaniment of some funky drums, some groovy synths, a ripping guitar solo, and some hot rhythm guitar. I could tell Darla was going to put on a good show for us. Once I made my way into the crowd, I noticed another thing. Darla was playing right under a large and very low hanging tree. I immediately thought of Janie under the pear tree, a location where she first discovered her sense of maturity, independence, and self-expression...Since I've left home, my maturity and independence has been found and tested, just like what happened to Janie.
— Aram Donabed

After the band played their last song, we walked back to the dorm in darkness. We heard crickets and the crunching of leaves as we walked down the uneven brick sidewalk. "It really seems like fall tonight," Eric commented. I agreed. It was a perfect night and the event really spoke to me in ways I did not expect it to.
— Julie Czop


At the Pen & Pencil Club

RuNett Ebo Gray

The Horizon*

Early morning, waking up in the islands
when the day says hello
the sun against the blue sky is so mellow.
The blanket of blue meets the ocean
two shades deeper but also blue
That line that separates the two
also joins earth and sky.
That line that disappears when a storm comes
and the sky closes its big eye
so you can't see where the sky stops and ocean begins
It can be scary to see but so is life
The storm passes, and ocean kisses the sky again
the line re-appears and we can relax once more
looking out from where water meets the shore.

*theme: the horizon

Dear Zora,

I apologize to you for the world not recognizing your craft to its fullest. It is a shame that great writers like you are not seen as special...until they are no longer with us. I wonder if you were alive, how you would react to the notoriety of your book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. I'm enjoying your classic...That's how the world defines your book...Maybe, one day, I can be you...But I want to be able to feel the accolades.


Of all of Janie's husbands, I liked Tea Cake. Though he was a gambler and a hustler, he was good to her. He also respected her potential to learn, so he taught her how to do things. For example he taught her to fish, hunt, dance, drive, play checkers, and even how to shoot a gun and a rifle. Her friend Phoebe discouraged her from being with Tea Cake, but how many of us listen to our friends, when we have already made up our minds? The only thing I didn't like, was when his jealousy flared up and he decided to sap her around and abused her to prove a point, that didn't need to be proven because Janie loved him with all her heart.


When the storm was coming and the Indians and the animals were going east, Janie and probably others in Eatonville believed the Indians didn't know what they were doing or saying. I saw the pecking order of how other ethnic groups looked at each other's sensibilities. But when they kept saying "De lake is coming," I imagined it to be like what a tsunami would look like. When Janie said, "Ole massa is doing his work now. Us oughta keep quiet," it reminded me of my grandmother and mother who always made us sit quiet and settle down when a storm was coming or was full blown. Zora, your phraseology throughout the book was wonderful. E.g. "The Sea was walking the earth with a heavy heel," was a wonderful adage.

Sincerely yours,
Victoria Huggins Peurifoy


CHRIS KENNEDY is a surfer from the New Jersey coast. He is a computer science major at Drexel University and is currently working on a short novel. He was a member of Rachel Wenrick’s 2015-16 Writers Room independent study.