One of the writers most dear to my heart is Zora Neale Hurston. As a black woman living in the early 1920s, Hurston was a powerful force; fighting against the grain of a dominantly sexist and racist society. This year for Black History Month, I wanted to share what Hurston means to me and why her work is essential to the American experience.
Zora Neale Hurston was a writer most well known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, a powerful novel about love and cruelty and what it means to be a woman (more specifically, a black woman). Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the most deeply affecting novels I have ever read. It changed the way look at myself and my world, and I almost never read it.
Hurston's work was all but buried and unrecognized as an essential part of the Harlem Renaissance. Luckily for all of us, Alice Walker brought proper attention to Hurston's genius with the publication of her essay "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" in 1975. Hurston's novels and anthropological studies have been solidified in the canon since that time, and studies of her work continue.
Every Tongue Got to Confess, a collection of folktales gathered by Hurston from her travels in Gulf South throughout the 1920s, was published in 2001 following a discovery of Hurston's papers in the Smithsonian archives, and this year another of Hurston's studies will be published for the first time. Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" is the story of Cudjo Lewis. In 1927, Cudjo gave Hurston his story of being captured in Africa and enslaved fifty years after the ban on Atlantic slave trade. She built this narrative over three months of interviews and conversation; after close to ninety years, the story is finally being published.
While Hurston's novels and anthropological work are important for study, her life was equally fascinating. There are biographies of her life, and her autobiography is available, there's even a graphic novel about Zora Neale Hurston, but my favorite of these offerings has to be Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon's perfect middle grade mystery in Zora and Me. Using facts from Zora Neale Hurston’s early life they imbued this novel with a pitch perfect sense of time and place. The imagination at the center of this story fully realizes the spirit of Zora and her tall tales – child readers will enjoy the fun and fear of the mystery while adult readers see a portrait of the child Zora who will continue to challenge established ideas, create great stories, and teach us much about race and history through her collections of folklore. And adult readers get to enjoy the fun too.
Zora Neale Hurston is a revolutionary figure within American history. She was an African American in a literary culture that did not want to hear her voice. She was a woman in a male dominated academic world. Her legacy rises above all of that. Zora Neale Hurston shared human stories, a gift that makes us whole, makes each of us that read her words a part of a shared world.Hurston's novels, collected folklore, and anthropological work allow us access into a world long suppressed. This is our foundation, as difficult as it may be to grapple with. Honor Hurston's memory, read her words, and remember that black history is American history.
A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick
“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith
Every Tongue Got to Confess is an extensive volume of African American folklore that Zora Neale Hurston collected on her travels through the Gulf States in the late 1920s.
The bittersweet and often hilarious tales -- which range from longer narratives about God, the Devil, white folk, and mistaken identity to witty one-liners -- reveal attitudes about faith, love, family, slavery, race,
New York Times Bestseller
“A profound impact on Hurston’s literary legacy.”—New York Times
“One of the greatest writers of our time.”—Toni Morrison
From critically acclaimed journalist Valerie Boyd comes an eloquent profile of one of the most intriguing cultural figures of the twentieth century—Zora Neale Hurston.
A woman of enormous talent and remarkable drive, Zora Neale Hurston published seven books, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years.
From Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most important African American writers of the twentieth century, comes her riveting autobiography—now available in a limited Olive Edition.
"It's irresistible to try and imagine what Hurston would make of this book, and inevitable to conclude that she'd approve."—NPR Best Books of 2017
A bold retelling of the life of the Their Eyes Were Watching God author
Winner of the 2011 John Steptoe New Talent (Author) Award! Racial duplicity threatens an idyllic African American community in the turn-of-the-century South in a dazzling debut inspired by the early life of Zora Neale Hurston. (Ages 10 and up)