Hurston's 'Their Eyes' choice for Big Read event

The Literary Center at the Margaret Mitchell House is hoping the eyes of many metro Atlantans will be watching Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in coming weeks.

The Atlanta History Center’s literary division has selected Hurston’s seminal 1937 novel for its second annual the Big Read event. Atlantans are encouraged to read the Harlem Renaissance writer’s most popular work between Jan. 30-March 16, whether solo or part of a book or discussion group.

The History Center is launching related programs (all of it free) beginning Feb. 17, from a Harlem Renaissance kick-off party to book readings and film showings.

The Big Read is a nationwide National Endowment for the Arts initiative, billed as the largest reading program in American history. Last year, the Mitchell House Literary Center picked F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Hurston’s tale of a rural, self-educated black woman’s struggle for independence and self-knowledge through three marriages was tapped because it ties in well to the History Center’s African-American history programming, said Kate Whitman, vice president of public programs.

The center is opening “Civil War to Civil Rights,” a series of exhibitions and programs exploring American history from the 1860s through the 1960s, with the exhibit “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits” on Jan. 30. The exhibit will feature 100 photographic portraits, of subjects from Frederick Douglass to Jimi Hendrix, from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection.

“With the Big Read kick-off event in mid-February and programs through mid-March, we are celebrating both Black History Month and Women’s History Month while honoring the contributions of Zora Neale Hurston,” Whitman said.

Selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels in 2005, “Their Eyes,” experienced another wave of popularity after the 2005 TV movie starring Halle Berry.

The Oprah Winfrey-produced movie will be shown repeatedly at the History Center on Feb. 27. Other Big Read events include talks by Hurston scholars Deborah Plant (Feb. 24-25) and Valerie Boyd (March 8). More information and to register: AtlantaHistory