Restaurateur Andy Shallal was on the phone this afternoon, explaining to me how the 1930 play Mule Bone drove a wedge between its two creative collaborators, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Apparently, Hurston copyrighted the play in her name only, a slight that led to a falling out between the two Harlem Renaissance legends. “They never talked to each other for the rest of their lives,” Shallal says.
Shallal was telling me this story as background to his new southern-food eatery, Eatonville, which is an homage to Hurston and her D.C. connections, including her undergraduate studies at Howard University, where she co-founded The Hilltop. As others have already reported, Eatonville is named after Hurston’s hometown in Florida; the eatery is also a collaboration between Shallal (owner of the mini-Busboys and Poets chain) and Michael Babin of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes Rustico, Vermilion, and other operations.
But here’s the interesting thing: Eatonville, scheduled to open sometime early next year, will be located on 14th Street NW, just across V Street from the original Busboys and Poets, which itself is an homage to Hughes. So is the placement of the two restaurants a sort of symbolic healing to the historic rift between Hughes and Hurston?
“Absolutely,” says Shallal. “I want to put some artwork on the street that connects the two places.” The artwork, he adds, could be something as simple as footsteps between Eatonville and Busboys and Poets.