Thursday, 24 October 2013

Oprah-Halle movie spurs author family feud

Oprah-Halle movie spurs author family feud

The great Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston died penniless in 1960 — but Oprah Winfrey has given the author’s heirs something to fight about since turning one of her books into a TV movie starring Halle Berry.
Hurston’s grandniece Dr. Lois Hurston Gaston, of Florida, is suing the author’s niece Lucy Anne Hurston of Connecticut over the writer’s trust, which has generated $1 million in annual income since the 2005 flick “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
The two women helped set up the Hurston Trust in 2001 to collect the rights to the writer’s works and capitalize off their value.
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Zora Neale HurstonPhoto: Getty Images
But the language of the trust is unclear about who controls the money since the number of heirs has ballooned from seven to 21.
Gaston, who owns 10 percent of the trust, claims Lucy Anne Hurston, who has the most power with a 26 percent interest, is trying to disenfranchise the other 19 heirs and maintain her grip on the money.
Lucy Anne’s “view is that the Hurston Trust should be interpreted so as to allow her to remain a trustee for so long as she pleases, with full veto power over any and all actions taken in the administration of the Hurston Trust,” Gaston charges in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court case.
Hurston replied in legal papers last week that she is not being “selfish” and believes the dispute does not belong in court. She asked the judge to toss it.
Zora Neale Hurston’s books have been selling 500,000 copies a year since the adaptation of her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” aired on ABC in 2005. Winfrey served as executive producer, and it was backed by her Harpo Productions studios.
The author, a graduate of Barnard College, wrote most of her novels in Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s.
She inspired other African-American greats — including Toni Morrison and Alice Walker — but never realized enduring financial success.
Now her own story of literary redemption is at risk as the family battles over her legacy.
Last week, Judge Rita Mella urged both sides to settle the conflict out of court. The family’s lawyers are deciding whether to take Mella’s suggestion and join a mediation program sponsored by the Surrogate’s Court.
Gaston told The Post it was “extremely important” to her relative’s legacy to settle the case.
Her lawyer, Frank Santoro, said, “One of the unfortunate consequences of Zora Neale Hurston’s life was that she died a pauper and she didn’t have any estate plan.
“The works that she authored that are now known as a national treasure were strewn to the four winds,” he said.
Lucy Anne Hurston and other relatives did not return calls for comment.