To walk into the restaurant Eatonville in Washington, D.C. is to enter a world dedicated to the memory of Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance writer best known for her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Murals depicting scenes from her life and literature grace the walls, and the menu offers up her favorites like shrimp and okra.
Eatonville gets its name from the small town in Florida where Hurston grew up and later returned to as an ethnographer to record African-American folkore, turning yarns spun on front porches into literature for the ages. Eatonville is known as the nation’s first incorporated municipality founded by African Americans, and Hurston’s father at one time served as the mayor.
It is fitting that the restaurant has launched a monthly dinner series called “Food and Folklore“, designed to “bring storytelling back to the dinner table” the way Zora would have done it. The series’ inaugural event in November featured Hurston biographer Valerie Boyd, who shared her experience researching and writing Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. The next schedule event is tonight, December 9, and will feature the the director of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Camille Giraud Akeju, who will speak about African-American holiday traditions, with a themed menu.
Eatonville, owned by Andy Shallal, sits across the street from his popular Busboys and Poets
restaurant, which itself is inspired by Harlem Renaissance poet
Langston Hughes. At one time close friends, the two writers had a
falling out that was never reconciled in life, and Shallal’s intent is
to symbolically reunite them in spirit. The restaurants are located in
Washington’s historic U Street area.
Shallal is organizing a package tour to Eatonville, Florida in January to coincide with the town’s annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. To stay in the loop you can follow the restaurant on Twitter at @eatonville.