The genius and influential works of the amazing Zora Neale Hurston
I’ve been reading and re-discovering the work of Zora Neale Hurston. All of them are amazing! But here I am writing some quick thoughts about Mules and Men, Barracoon and Their Eyes Were Watching God!
Mules and Men is endlessly hilarious and unrelentingly captivating. So many amazing stories of culture, origin stories, and beliefs. It is worthy of the label – “great collection of black America’s folk world.” I can’t pick a single story to write about because all of them are amazing.
Barracoon is an amazing story or maybe better called a conversation with Cudjoe, the last survivor (some argue he was at the time one of three last survivors) of the cross-Atlantic slave horrors from Africa and the United States. As an aside, I am always confused as to why transatlantic slavery is called “the slave trade.” Trade usually involves two willing parties. What benefits were derived by those who were chained or the Afrikan communities left on the continent? Might it not be better to call slavery a theft, oppression, and kidnapping of human beings? Barracoon lays bare the anguish of being taken to a strange land where you must survive while trying to maintain your sense of self and, simultaneously, hoping against all hopelessness that the ordeal will end.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is perhaps the one I am still struggling to make sense of the most because it is such a rich novel of interlaced ideas, philosophies, constructs, and intersecting identities. The story follows Janie Crawford as she evolves and goes through different life events, including marriages, romance, identities of blackness, relationships, community, and so much more. Anyone reading it would come out with a different thing that jumps out for them.
Oh, and lastly, Ruby Dee! SHE WAS AMAZING. I admit I am biased towards her, and there was nostalgia on my part for her as a brilliant and powerful performer as I listened to these books through audible. I was in Johannesburg for two months a few months ago, and since I had to drive every day, especially to the university of Johannesburg, Meme Dee kept me company. If I had read these books on my own, I would have formed my own images and ideas of voices and sounds, but I am so glad I could have her read to me! She brings Zora Neale Hurston’s work to life amazingly. I was hooked from listening to the first book. After that, I just decided to listen to the rest of the work through her voice.
These days, I am re-reading works introduced to me in my youth or during my university education. I am doing this with readings for pleasure and theoretical/methodological papers (for example, I have been re-reading the media debate from the ETRD special issue with Dr. Michael Rook). Everything hits a little differently, and I understand it now differently through the lens of life experiences and other educational interactions. Zora Neale Hurston’s work is timeless. She is a magnificently engaging storyteller who has left us with gems! If you want to look up more of her work, this website has a good list – https://www.zoranealehurston.com/books/