Anthropology Zora Neale Hurston
by
Oneka LaBennett
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0160

Introduction

Zora Neale Hurston was a dynamic interdisciplinary writer and ethnographer who earned acclaim during the Harlem Renaissance, whose brilliant works of fiction were marginalized from popular and academic discourses until the 1970s, and whose pioneering contributions to anthropology and folklore are championed by 21st-century anthropologists of the African diaspora. Most scholars now agree that Hurston was born on 7 January 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, but for decades she obscured her place and date of birth. She claimed her childhood home of Eatonville, a black township in Florida, as her birthplace, and it inspired her masterful command of what was then termed “Negro folklore,” tall tales, or “lies” as Hurston put it. Eatonville also served as one of Hurston’s multiple ethnographic and folklore collecting field sites. Hurston’s first publications, however, were in fiction, not anthropology. She began accumulating literary successes while studying at Howard University, and after her first nationally published short story appeared in 1924, she was prompted to join Harlem’s “New Negro” movement.” She transferred to Barnard, a women’s college affiliated with Columbia University. After training there with Franz Boas, Hurston would, in 1928, become Barnard’s first black graduate. Under Boas’ tutelage and supported by the patronage of white benefactors, Hurston traveled throughout the US South and to Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Honduras, documenting cultural and religious traditions. Hurston’s famous quote, from her study of African American folklore, Mules and Men, sums up what drew her to anthropology: “It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings that I could see myself like somebody else . . . Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that” (p. 3). Inventive across numerous genres, Hurston’s constant genius was her unmatched ability to impart the oral traditions of rural black southerners, using their voices to advance Boas’s salvaging mission, blur the borders between fiction and ethnography, and maintain that black expression was worthy of anthropological analysis. Hurston’s later life was plagued by controversy, poverty, and isolation. Although she fearlessly celebrated black culture at a time when its most sympathetic proponents viewed it as exotic, Hurston’s political beliefs were sometimes at odds with black political movements—she opposed the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. After a false allegation of sexual misconduct against a minor—although the charges were dropped—Hurston’s reputation was damaged, and her increasingly conservative politics contributed to her exclusion from literary circles. Upon her death on 28 January 1960 she was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her work was out of print for thirty-five years when in 1975, author Alice Walker revitalized interest in her with an essay that established Hurston as Walker’s literary ancestor and recounted Walker’s excursion to place a gravestone where she believed Hurston was buried. Although Hurston’s work has not been canonized in anthropology, her oeuvre demonstrates early innovations in numerous areas including “native” anthropology, autoethnography, and African diasporic studies, and her citations reveal an indelible mark on feminist and black anthropologists.

General Overviews

Most of the extensive writing on Hurston falls within the confines of literary criticism, Gates and Appiah 1993, Lowe 1996, or literary biography Hemenway 1980 (cited under Biographies) and Boyd 2003 (cited under Biographies). The efforts of writers and scholars such as Walker, Robert Hemenway, Mary Helen Washington, Carla Kaplan, Henry Louis Gates, and Anthony Kwame Appiah have helped to establish Hurston’s place in the literary canon. In anthropology, Irma McClaurin has been a tireless proponent of recognizing Hurston’s contributions. The following overview reveals that Hurston’s interdisciplinary approach to fiction, folklore, and autobiographical writing has had immeasurable influence on a host of writers and scholars working in fields as diverse as anthropology, fiction writing, literary criticism, religious studies, and African and African American studies. Hurston’s corpus of fiction, ethnography, folklore, plays, and short stories reveals that no matter the disciplinary entry point of the analyst, one cannot discuss Hurston’s fiction without acknowledging her ethnographic perspective. Concomitantly, one cannot assess her ethnographic contributions without situating them alongside her fiction. These overlapping approaches have meant that her work resonates with and has informed scholars from multiple disciplines. As McClaurin 2001 and Visweswaran 1994 (cited under Black Feminist and Women of Color Anthropology) reveal, Hurston deeply impacted feminists and black anthropologists. Yet, Hurston’s anthropological work remains outside the field’s canon, which is still largely centered on the legacy of white men. Although Hurston’s contemporaries criticized her for explicitly keeping politics out of her work and for neglecting to engage directly with racism, McClaurin 2001 notes that a generation of feminist and black anthropologists working within the realms of scholar-activism, native anthropology, and applied anthropology have traced their lineage through Hurston. Experimental trends in feminist anthropology in the late 1990s drew on Hurston to explore blurred lines between fiction and ethnography, and the possibilities of “autoethnography”(blending autobiography and ethnography). Visweswaran 1994 (cited under Black Feminist and Women of Color Anthropology) argues that Hurston used autobiography and fiction to enrich her anthropological studies, while also using ethnography to perfect a novelistic voice that drew on the cultural worlds of real-life African Americans. Like Hurston’s own approach, the vast scholarship drawing on her work crosses genres and disciplinary scopes—thus, in many ways, defying categorization. Although the citations that follow are not placed in multiple categories, the sections are often porous and have a good deal of overlap.

  • Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, eds. 1993. Zora Neale Hurston: Critical perspectives past and present. New York: Amistad.

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    Collects reviews of and essays about Hurston’s work in publications from her time period, including The Crisis, New Republic, New York Times Books Review, and New York Herald Tribune. Includes reviews of Hurston’s seven books. While most of the essays are literary in their approach, one by Francoise Lionnet-McCumber explores the autoethnographic qualities of Dust Tracks on a Road, another by Lillie Howard addresses the often-neglected Seraph on the Suwanee.

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  • Lowe, John. 1996. Jump at the sun: Huston’s cosmic comedy. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    Definitive text examining the comic elements in Hurston’s fiction, traced from multiple sources including her letters, essays, and autobiography, to illustrate her critical role in identifying African elements in black American culture and the wider significance of humor in African American literature.

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  • McClaurin, Irma, ed. 2001. Black feminist anthropology: Theory, politics, praxis, and poetics. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    An essential text for anthropologists interested in Hurston’s contributions to the field, McClaurin’s introduction to the volume counts Hurston as a key figure in the genealogy of black feminist anthropologists. Hurston is interpreted as a pioneering proponent of interdisciplinary uses of ethnography; her novels were ethnographically grounded, and her books and essays on folklore were literary. In addition to her prominence in the introduction, subsequent essays also spotlight Hurston as a precursor to black feminist anthropology and as an innovator in autoethnography.

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Major Works

Hurston published two books of folklore (Hurston 1935 and Hurston 1938) four novels Hurston 1934, Hurston 1937, Hurston 1939, and Hurston 1948), an autobiography (Hurston 1942), and numerous articles, essays, and plays. She also left behind an unpublished novel, Herod the Great. Hurston 1935 was the first popular book about African American folklore written by a black scholar. While her literary works outnumber her folkloric and ethnographic writings, anthropology became a tool Hurston used to reflect on her own experiences, and her fiction was steeped in ethnography. This blurring of genres, a hallmark of Hurston’s writings, is illustrated in Hurston 1938, which marries the conventions of the novel and the travelogue with participant observation, chronicling Hurston’s experience as an initiate into voodoo practices. Just as Hurston 1938 contains autobiographical elements, Lionnet-McCumber, in Gates and Appiah 1993 (cited under General Overviews), notes that Hurston’s autobiography, Hurston 1942, can be read as an autoethnography. While anthropologists have paid special attention to Hurston’s novels, plays, and fiction, in addition to her folklore and her writings on voodoo, broader scholarship on her work has privileged Hurston 1937—her most acclaimed text and arguably the only one that has gained admission into the American literary canon. Among Hurston’s essays, published in 1928, “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” (World Tomorrow, 11 [May]: 664–667) and published in 1950, “What White Publishers Won’t Print” (Negro Digest, 8 [April]: 85–89) are standouts, as is her 1926 play, Color Struck (“Color Struck: A Play.” Fire! [November]: 7–15). Her estate published Hurston and Kaplan 2001, which Hurston had intended to publish as one of seven volumes on American folklore. Kaplan argues that had Hurston accomplished that goal, she would have been “the leading folklorist of her generation” (xxii, italics in original).

  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1934. Jonah’s gourd vine. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

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    Regarded as an autobiographical novel because it is based on the lives of Hurston’s parents, at the time of publication Hurston’s first book received generally positive but culturally biased reviews (Hemenway 1980, cited under Biographies, p. 194 and Gates and Appiah 1993, cited under General Overviews, pp. 3–9). Although published before Mules and Men, Jonah’s Gourd Vine was written after Hurston completed her folklore fieldwork and reflects her genius for narrating linguistic moments that represent the folkways of the black South (Hemenway 1980, p. 192).

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1935. Mules and men. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

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    With stories and folklore collected in Eatonville, Florida, in 1927, and with an introduction by Franz Boas. Contextualizes material within black social life, including songs, and hoodoo customs from fieldwork with practitioners in New Orleans. With autobiographical elements and a blurring of the lines between informant and participant observer, this book breaks with anthropological conventions. Includes a glossary of song lyrics and music, formulae of hoodoo doctors, and paraphernalia of conjure. Hailed by Boas for offering “the intimate setting in the social life of the Negro.”

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1937. Their eyes were watching God. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

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    By Hurston’s account, this was written in Haiti in seven weeks while conducting fieldwork for Tell My Horse. Beautifully illustrates her talent for marrying ethnographic thick description and linguistically authentic speech with rich character development. Hurston’s heroine, Janie Crawford, embodies black women’s liberation from oppressive forces and has inspired generations of black women writers, artists, academics, critics, and general readers.

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1938. Tell my horse: Voodoo and life in Haiti and Jamaica. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

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    Addresses racial categories in Jamaica, and politics and voodoo in Haiti and contains appendices with songs. Critiqued for Hurston’s endorsement of US imperialism in Haiti and hailed for its illustration of her complex insider/outsider positionality, it also reveals Hurston’s bridging of ethnographic worlds, from Florida to the Caribbean, and her “cross-cultural reflections on gender roles and patriarchy” (Visweswaran, p. 34).

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1939. Moses, man of the mountain. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

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    A retelling of the Exodus story, mixing the biblical Moses with the Moses of African American folklore. While contemporary critiques from Alain Locke and Ralph Ellison branded it as dependent on racial caricatures, the novel’s treatment of race as a social construct rather than a biological trait reflects Hurston’s training under Franz Boas. Engaging with the condemnation of Hebrews to slaves, it has been interpreted as an intervention into global race discourses of the time (Reprinted with a foreword by Deborah E. McDowell, New York: Harper Perennial, 1991).

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1942. Dust tracks on a road. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

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    Criticized for its resistance to truthful self-representation and for its insistence on the universality of her experience (Hemenway 1980, p. 277), Hurston’s “anthropology of the self” (Gates and Appiah 1993, p. 242) reflects her fluid subjectivity (Pietka 2014, cited under Black Subjectivities, Personal Experiences, and Experimental Ethnography) filtered through the anthropological gaze and mediated alongside the hyperbolic folk songs she collected (Gates and Appiah 1993, p. 244, cited under General Overviews).

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. 1948. Seraph on the Suwanee. New York: Scribner’s.

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    Hurston’s last published novel centers on Florida whites, rather than on black characters. Dismissed as assimilationist at the time and later neglected by critics, it has subsequently been read as appropriating the marriage plot to subvert racialized gender subjectivities (duCille 1993, cited under African American Women’s Literature), as adhering to Hurston’s recurrent themes of female self-actualization (Gates and Appiah 1993), and as another illustration of her own complex identity negotiations mediated through a dedication to using vernacular to communicate her characters’ humanity regardless of their race.

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale, and Carla Kaplan, ed. 2001. Every tongue got to confess: Negro folk-tales from the Gulf states. New York: HarperCollins.

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    With a foreword by John Edgar Wideman and an introduction by Kaplan, Hurston’s unpublished, extensive “Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States” appear here, almost exactly as she transcribed them. With a posthumously added title derived from the “Preacher Tales” chapter. Although originally undated, Kaplan surmises this manuscript is informed by fieldwork launched under Franz Boas, and based on fieldwork at the end of 1927 funded by Charlotte Osgood Mason, who may have halted the manuscript’s publication in 1929.

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Primary Sources

A prolific and talented letter writer even for a historical moment in which the practice was de rigueur, Hurston’s literary legacy includes (and can be traced through) the nearly five hundred letters she penned, many of which appear, meticulously annotated, in Kaplan 2002. Hurston’s letters paint a picture of an interdisciplinary genius pushing borders between ethnography, fiction, religious studies, and folklore at a time when gender relegated her to the sidelines of the Harlem Renaissance and race consigned her to the whims of wealthy white benefactors with exoticized views of black culture. Although Hurston’s letters have been largely utilized to reflect on her role as a literary figure, McClaurin 2000 applies them toward understanding Hurston’s anthropological perspective. These primary sources also illustrate Hurston’s dedication to her craft, her confidence in the face of numerous daunting challenges, and her stubborn devotion to a worldview that celebrated not only the voices and belief systems of disenfranchised blacks but also Hurston’s own experiences. Hurston and Bordelon 1999, with a Bordelon-penned biographic essay, reveals Hurston’s groundbreaking descriptions of children’s games and performance pieces. West 2005 stands out in its treatment of Hurston’s shifting literary roles as up-and-comer, outsider, and recuperated feminist. West utilizes interviews, reviews, and interpretations of dust jackets and other marketing materials.

  • Hurston, Zora Neale, and Pamela Bordelon, ed. 1999. Go gator and the muddy water: Writing by Zora Neale Hurston for the Federal Writers’ Project. New York: W. W. Norton.

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    Volume collects Hurston’s writings for the Florida Federal Writers’ Project, a literary unit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Provides descriptive snapshots of Florida folklore and of the turpentine industry workers and citrus pickers Hurston researched. Includes folk dances and work songs that Hurston recorded, situated as cultural transmissions from Africa, and utilized to shed light on the lived realities of African American laborers.

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  • Kaplan, Carla, ed. 2002. Zora Neale Hurston: A life in letters. New York: Anchor.

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    Hurston’s letters annotated, including correspondences with anthropologists Franz Boas, Melville Herskovits, and Ruth Benedict, contemporaries Langston Hughes, W. E. B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson, and benefactors Charlotte Osgood Mason and Annie Nathan Meyer. Letters are organized by decade and accompanied by critical commentary and annotations. With photographs of Hurston, her family, benefactors, friends, and book covers, this is a valuable resource that also includes a glossary of people, publications, and organizations relevant to Hurston’s life and work.

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  • McClaurin, Irma. 2000. “Belle lettres: ‘Dear Langston, Love Zora’”. FlaVour Magazine (Autumn): 16–19.

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    McClaurin uses Hurston’s long friendship with and many letters to Langston Hughes, written biweekly between 1927 and 1930, as a starting point to reveal how Hurston brought black literature produced in the Harlem Renaissance to the black workers she interviewed and observed in Maitland, Eatonville, and Jacksonville, Florida, and in Magazine, Alabama. This article, written for a popular audience and an example of public anthropology, situates Hurston’s analysis of black folklore, comprising stories, songs, and dances as worthy of preservation and academic consideration.

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  • West, M. Genevieve. 2005. Zora Neale Hurston and American literary culture. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida.

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    Unusual in its attention to explaining why Hurston died in obscurity, this volume contextualizes her shifting levels of recognition, isolation, and acclaim. Focuses on critical responses to, and marketing of Hurston’s works at the time of publication, and on reviews and notices of reprints following her death. Chapter 4, “Voodoo: Fact and Fiction,” may be of special interest to anthropologists as it attends to the sensationalism surrounding voodoo and the marketing of Hurston’s study.

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Biographies

Some key biographic writings are credited with catapulting Hurston from the ranks of a forgotten Harlem Renaissance figure to a literary giant whose works, particularly her bildungsroman, Their Eyes Were Watching God, are now routinely assigned in universities and whose ethnography, voodoo studies, and folklore represent pivotal moments in anthropological methodology. Hurston biographers have relied heavily on her affinity for letter writing, on public records, and on archival materials to expose inconsistences between her actual life and the self she presented in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, as in Bordelon 1997. These biographies tend to focus on contextualizing literary accomplishments alongside her personal experiences, and on her relationships with other Harlem Renaissance figures such as Langston Hughes (as in Boyd 2003) and on her friendships with other literary figures, as in Lillios 2011. These texts also detail her struggles to fund her ethnographic fieldwork (an endeavor that often left her beholden to white benefactors) and her interactions with Franz Boas (Hemenway 1980). Hemenway 1980, along with Walker’s 1975 essay in Ms. Magazine, are credited with sparking the revival of interest in Hurston’s work. Walker’s Ms. Magazine article and “I Love Myself When I Am Laughing” pulled Hurston from obscurity, increasing the availability of her writing and situating her as the preeminent woman writer of the Harlem Renaissance. DuCille 2003 concisely reviews Boyd 2003 and Kaplan 2002 (cited under Primary Sources), while reflecting on Hurston’s contradictory political views, her endeavors across multiple registers—including writing, producing, directing, and performing in plays—and her quintessential trickster persona. Hurston and Hurston 2004 (written by Zora’s niece) provides a brief but distinctive biography, notable for its incorporation of replications of Hurston documents and for recordings of her speaking and singing. Also anomalous is Moylan 2011 and its treatment of Hurston’s final years, which reveals how the author applied her anthropological perspective to contribute to the conceptualization, design, and marketing of a black doll that was not derived from racist stereotypes—what Hurtson termed the first “anthropologically correct” black doll.

  • Bordelon, Pam. 1997. New tracks on dust tracks: Toward a reassessment of the life of Zora Neale Hurston. African American Review 31.1 (Spring): 5–21.

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    Based on an interview with one of Hurston’s surviving nieces and birth records contained in the Hurston family Bible, Bordelon exposes inconsistences between Hurston’s actual life and the presentation in her autobiography. Presents sympathetic interpretations of Hurston’s suspect biographical information and of her practice of obscuring her actual birthday: Bordelon notes, for example, that her determination to complete high school may have compelled Hurston to lie in order to qualify for free public education.

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  • Boyd, Valarie. 2003. Wrapped in rainbows: The life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner.

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    A journalistic account of Hurston’s life and work based on documentation derived from multiple sources including letters, marriage certificates, court documents, census records, and archives. Criticized for over-reaching in its attempt to explain obscured events and time periods in Hurston’s life, it nevertheless presents insight into the high esteem Hurston had for Franz Boas and into how Boasian methodology shaped her approach to fieldwork.

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  • duCille, Ann. 2003. Looking for Zora. New York Times Book Review, 5 January.

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    This eloquently written review of Kaplan’s A Life in Letters and Boyd’s Wrapped in Rainbows provides a concise and thoughtful overview of the controversies in Hurston’s life and work. Includes discussion of her political views and revelries with other writers and of the legacy she left for feminists and black women writers. Also provides insightful comments on the post-1970s Hurston renaissance.

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  • Hemenway, Robert E. 1980. Zora Neale Hurston: A literary biography. Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    Originally published in 1977. Definitive biography, originally published in 1977. Includes a foreword by Alice Walker. Although mostly a literary biography, provides some detailed information on Boas’s influence on Hurston. With excerpts of Hurston’s letters to Boas and details on the withdrawal of scholarship funds that may have contributed to Hurston not receiving her PhD. Contains photos of Hurston and an image of the gravestone Walker placed in the Garden of Heavenly Rest Cemetery.

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  • Hurston, Lucy Anne, and Zora Neale Hurston. 2004. Speak, so you can speak again: The life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Doubleday.

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    This unique multimedia package, dubbed a “memory book” by its author, includes a brief biography written by Hurston’s niece, Lucy. Among the compelling features are photographs, memorabilia, reproductions of Hurston’s letters, and other archival reproductions—including for example, a handwritten draft of a chapter from Dust Tracks on a Road. The CD of Hurston being interviewed in 1943 and of her singing Florida folksongs stand out among the many replications of primary sources.

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  • Lillios, Anna. 2011. Crossing the creek: The literary friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813038094.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Hurston’s 1940s friendship with Marjorie Rawlings, the white, upper-class author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Yearling, with attention to how racism and the social conventions of the Jim Crow South shaped their relationship and their worldviews.

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  • Moylan, Virginia Lynn. 2011. Zora Neale Hurston’s final decade. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida.

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    Uncommon in its attention to Hurston’s underexplored final years, which have been widely characterized as riddled by poverty, scandal, and isolation but revealed here as also productive and meaningful. Includes attention to Hurston’s role in creating what she dubbed the first “anthropologically correct” black doll, to composing Herod the Great, to the ramifications of the false child molestation charge, and to the reasoning behind her controversial opposition to court-ordered desegregation.

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Anthologies, Bibliographies, and Reference Guides

Anthologies, annotated bibliographies, and reference guides such as Davis 1997 and Davis and Mitchell 2013 illustrate Hurston’s far-reaching influence and the complex racialized and gendered negotiations she executed in order to pursue the craft of writing within and across multiple genres. Her contributions in Cunard’s now-classic 1934 publication situates Hurston among the luminaries of her day. Walker 1979 stands out as a seminal anthology that sparked the revival of interest in Hurston’s work.

  • Cunard, Nancy. 1970 (1934). Negro: An anthology. Edited by Nancy Cunard. New York: Frederick Ungar.

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    Hurston’s essays and transcriptions of folk tales, “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” “Conversions and Visions,” “Shouting,” “The Sermon,” “Mother Catherine,” “Uncle Monday,” and “Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals” appear alongside entries by such auspicious contemporaries as Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, Louis Armstrong, Countee Cullen, and Arthur Schomburg in the abridged edition of Cunard’s seminal collection. Hurston’s contributions demonstrate her early attention to, and unparalleled grasp of, black expressive culture.

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  • Davis, Rose Parkman. 1997. Zora Neale Hurston: An annotated bibliography and reference guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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    A reference guide to works written about Hurston up to 1997. Includes annotations of books, dissertations, honors theses, articles and book chapters, conference papers, and children’s books.

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  • Davis, Cynthia, and Verner D. Mitchell. 2013. Zora Neale Hurston: An annotated bibliography of works and criticism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.

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    Combines biographical information, essays on Hurston’s novels and nonfiction books, and sections on plays, film, and dance, as well as a section on folktales and anthropology. Appendices include doctoral dissertations, children’s books about Hurston, and primary works.

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  • Walker, Alice, ed. 1979. I love myself when I am laughing . . . and then when I am looking mean and impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston reader. New York: Feminist Press.

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    This celebrated anthology frames excerpts of Hurston’s autobiographical and folkloric texts alongside samples of her essays and articles, as well as her fiction. Begins with a dedication from Walker and then bookends Hurston’s work between an introductory essay by noted Hurston scholar Mary Helen Washington and “Looking for Zora”—a version of “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” the article Walker published in Ms. magazine in 1975, which recounted Walker’s quest to find Hurston’s unmarked grave and revived interest in Hurston.

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African American Women’s Literature

DuCille 2005 highlights Barbara Smith’s 1977 essay, “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” as instrumental in positioning Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God as the embodiments of a black feminist literary continuum. Smith and others who have delineated a black feminist critical praxis predicate it on shared experiential knowledge and on the use of a “specifically black female language” (Smith 1977, cited under Black Feminism). Replete with these features, Hurston’s work reemerged as the quintessential representation of the black feminist literary tradition in the 1970s and 1980s, Bethel 1982. This reclaiming of Hurston stands in defiance to her marginalization during the Harlem Renaissance when contemporaries and noted figures such as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Alain Locke criticized her work. Largely driven by Alice Walker’s claiming of her as a literary precursor (Sadoff 1985), Hurston’s canonization within African American women’s literature has also raised questions about whether her iconic status “obscure[s] the larger legacy of black women writers” (duCille 2005). Much of this work, such as Batker 1998, English 1999, Kaplan 1996, and McGowan 2001, has centered on Their Eyes Were Watching God’s place in and significance for African American women’s literature. Wall 1989 stands out in advocating that Mules and Men should be held up alongside Their Eyes Were Watching God as a “motherly text.” Holloway 1987 is of special interest for anthropologists as it points to Hurston’s training with Boas as foundational to her command of linguistic codes, while Miller 2005 and Walker 1983 offer numerous essays that will appeal to students of Hurston’s literary significance. In an important essay, Washington 1972 provides an early literary historiography that predates Walker’s “rediscovery” of Hurston.

  • Batker, Carol. 1998. “Love me like I like to be”: The sexual politics of Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the classic blues, and the black women’s club movement. African American Review 32.2: 199–213.

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    Studies Their Eyes Were Watching God in relation to early-20th-century black feminist politics to argue that it does not fit neatly into the critical dichotomies between respectability and desire into which African American women’s literature of the time has been placed. Contends that Hurston’s novel employs both the discourses of the black women’s club movement’s middle-class conservatism and black blues women’s sexual liberation.

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  • Bethel, Lorraine. 1982. “This Infinity of Conscious Pain”: Zora Neale Hurston and the black female literary tradition. In All the women are white, all the blacks are men, but some of us are brave: Black women’s studies. Edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, 176–188. New York: Feminist Press.

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    Bethel’s chapter in this seminal text positions Hurston as a central figure in black female literature and as a primary illustration of how black women writers can redirect literary forms created by and for white men to design a literary corpus that captures “the political and cultural realities of their experience” (p. 4). Situates a consciousness of the racial/sexist oppression writers such as Hurston faced as a basic tenet of black feminism.

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  • duCille, Ann. 1993. The coupling convention: Sex, text, and tradition in black women’s fiction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This notable study analyzes Their Eyes Were Watching God, Seraph on the Suwanee, and other black women writers’ texts within the framework of the marriage plot, which was generally understood as a white middle-class convention and neglected by critics of African American literature. Demonstrates that black writers appropriated the marriage plot to subvert racialized gender subjectivities.

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  • duCille, Ann. 2005. The mark of Zora: Reading between the lines of legend and legacy. Scholar and Feminist Online 2.2 (Winter).

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    DuCille coined the term “Hurstonism” to describe “the conspicuous consumption of [Hurston] as the initiator of the African American Women’s literary tradition.” Documents how earlier discussions about Hurston’s work were eclipsed by the “legend” promoted through Alice Walker’s homage in the 1975 article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston.” Argues that prior to Walker’s public reclamation, Hurston was out of print but not forgotten, as communities of black women, including those with ties to the South and academics, read her work.

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  • English, Daylanne K. 1999. Somebody else’s foremother: David Haynes and Zora Neale Hurston. African American Review 33.2 (Summer): 283–297.

    DOI: 10.2307/2901279Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Following Mary Helen Washington, English maintains that Haynes’s novel Somebody Else’s Mama transgresses gendered constructions of African American literature vis-à-vis its portrayal of “female boding,” and Haynes’s declaration of kinship to Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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  • Holloway, Karla F. C. 1987. The character of the word: The texts of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Greenwood.

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    In the first book-length treatment of language in her works, Holloway credits Hurston’s education in two black schools and her training under Franz Boas as instrumental in developing her adeptness with African American linguistic codes.

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  • Kaplan, Carla. 1996. The erotics of talk: Women’s writing and feminist paradigms. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Includes a chapter, “‘That Oldest Human Longing’: The Erotics of Talk in Their Eyes Were Watching God,” which argues that amidst a social context that repressed representations of black women’s sexuality, Hurston presents “one of the sexiest passages in American literature” (p. 99).

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  • McGowan, Todd. 2001. The feminine “No!”: Psychoanalysis and the new canon. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    Situates Their Eyes Were Watching God as one of four key examples of the reevaluation of the American literary canon. Probes themes of liberation and domination in the novel.

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  • Miller, Monica L. 2005. “Jumpin’ at the sun”: Reassessing the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston. Scholar and Feminist Online 3.2 (Winter).

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    Special journal issue with essays by Carla Kaplan, Valerie Boyd, Ann duCille, Cheryl A. Wall, and David Krasner, as well as a lecture by Alice Walker. Sections on narrating Hurston’s life, her legacy, performance, and student testimonials. Also includes archival documents from Barnard College.

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  • Sadoff, Dianne F. 1985. Black matrilineage: The case of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 11.1 (Autumn): 4–26.

    DOI: 10.1086/494197Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Alice Walker’s claiming of Hurston as a literary foremother as vehicle for clarifying how race and gender revise theories of literary influence.

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  • Walker, Alice. 1983. In search of our mother’s gardens: Womanist prose by Alice Walker. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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    This collection of Walker’s essays, articles, and reviews written between 1966 and 1982 includes a reprint of her pivotal 1975 Ms. magazine essay on Hurston, here retitled, “Looking for Zora,” and another essay, “Zora Neale Hurston: A Cautionary Tale and Partisan View.” Both trace Walker’s interest in and admiration for Hurston’s work.

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  • Wall, Cheryl A. 1989. Mules and Men and Women: Zora Neale Hurston’s strategies of narration and visions of female empowerment. Black American Literature Forum 23.4 (Winter): 661–680.

    DOI: 10.2307/2904095Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that Hurston employs narrative strategies in Mules and Men that allow her to simultaneously celebrate black culture while critiquing women’s subordination within that culture and also depicting their agency and creative expression. Suggests that this book should hold the place of “mother text” in black women’s writing, alongside Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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  • Washington, Mary Helen. 1972. The black woman’s search for identity: Zora Neale Hurston’s work. Black World 21 (August): 519–527.

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    Washington offers an important early critique and literary historiography that predates Alice Walker’s public rediscovery of Hurston.

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Black Feminism

Hurston’s dedication to Black women’s experiential knowledge, to their oppression in hegemonic society and within the African diasporic cultures she celebrated, and her ability to portray their agency and liberation position her as a central voice in black feminism, as noted in Smith 1977. Yet, indicative of Hurston’s contradictory and shifting roles, even her designation as the embodiment of black feminism has been problematized by scholarship such as duCille 1993 (cited under African American Women’s Literature) and West 2005 (cited under Primary Sources), who note that the term “feminist” has been applied transhistorically. West 2002 has examined the diversity of black womanhood Hurston depicted, while Meisenhelder 1999 explores how she embodied the trickster figures from black folklore as a strategy for addressing her divided audiences. Her impact has been comprehensive—she has informed black feminist discourse in numerous fields including literature, as noted by Crabtree 1985, Boyce Davies 1994, Meisenhelder 1999, West 2002, Pinto 2013, Tasharofi 2014, political science as in Harris-Perry 2011, and psychology, as illustrated in Miles 2003. Pinto argues that Hurston’s mixing of genres in Tell My Horse is a “visionary aesthetic” that inaugurated more contemporary engagements with gender, race, and diaspora (p. 15).

  • Boyce Davies, Carole. 1994. Black women, writing and identity: Migrations on the subject. New York: Routledge.

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    With Hurston’s notion of “going a piece of the way with them” figuring prominently, Boyce Davies applies “How it Feels to be Colored Me” and other works to locate “a theoretical position of migratory subjectivity in [Hurston’s] narrative description of cultural, performance practice” (p. 46). Links the notion of going “all the way home” to recognizing that many theoretical positions represent treacherous routes for black women (p. 46).

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  • Crabtree, Claire. 1985. The confluence of folklore, feminism and black self-determination in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Southern Literary Journal 17.2 (Spring): 54–66.

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    Delineates aspects of folkloric themes to argue that folklore is inextricably connected to black feminism and self-determination in the novel.

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  • Harris-Perry, Melissa V. 2011. Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and black women in America. New Haven, CT and London: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Harris-Perry opens her book with an overview of Hurston’s protagonist from Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie Mae Crawford, using Janie’s life as a model of black women’s struggles to balance their personal desires with the “limiting,” “soul-crushing” expectations placed on them. Harris-Perry sees Hurston’s Janie as an embodiment of the ways in which race and gender intersect with black women’s quests for self-exploration.

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  • Meisenhelder, Susan Edwards. 1999. Hitting a straight lick with a crooked stick: Race and gender in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press.

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    Presents Hurston as a “feminist trickster” who commanded both her craft and an unsympathetic audience as she intersected female resistance alongside her themes of racial affirmation. Draws parallels between the racial manipulations played out in the folktales Hurston collected and the ways in which she addressed a divided audience.

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  • Miles, Diana. 2003. Women, violence and testimony in the works of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Peter Lang.

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    This unique study analyzes Hurston’s first four novels and her autobiography as trauma testimonials and explores her recurring themes of death and violence. Avers that Hurston’s personal experiences with trauma, and the domestic violence African American women of her time suffered, influenced her literary depictions.

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  • Pinto, Samantha. 2013. Difficult diasporas: The transnational feminist aesthetic of the black Atlantic. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814759486.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This treatment of black Atlantic feminist aesthetics considers Hurston’s Tell My Horse alongside the work of Erna Brodber, a Jamaican academic and novelist who Hurston influenced. The chapter on Hurston and Brodber “unpacks postmodern and proto-postmodern prose forms to engage a black feminist critique of ‘modernity’” that defies compartmentalizing black women into stagnant historical understandings of tradition (p. 14).

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  • Smith, Barbara. 1977. Toward a black feminist criticism. Brooklyn, NY: Out & Out.

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    Foundational 1977 essay situating Hurston alongside writers such as Margaret Walker, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker as using black women’s language and shared cultural experience in ways crucial to a black feminist critical understanding.

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  • Tasharofi, Parmis. 2014. Mrs. Turner cut in the web of internalized racism: A black feminist reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. English Language and Literature Studies 4.2 (June): 1–5.

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    Reads Hurston’s character, Mrs. Turner, as having internalized white hegemonic notions of beauty. Offers Mrs. Turner’s affinity for white features such as straight hair and fair skin as applicable to black feminist discourses surrounding the intersection of race and gender.

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  • West, Genevieve. 2002. Feminist subversion in Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine. Women’s Studies 31.4: 499–515.

    DOI: 10.1080/00497870213656Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Departs from earlier readings to aver that Hurston presents a multifaceted feminist critique of marriage in the novel. West’s reading pays particular attention to Hurston’s depiction of “the diversity of Black womanhood” and to how black women respond to oppression.

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Contributions to Ethnography and Ethnographic Methods

Although marginalized from the anthropological canon, a range of scholars have noted Hurston’s valuable contributions to ethnography, remarking on her path-breaking use of the genre to present the voices of rural blacks (Carby 1990) and expose the limits of decolonization (Meehan 2001) and her innovative ethnographic methods (Staple 2006). As much as Hurston is understood as defying and reimagining the conventions of ethnography, she was also influenced by anthropological traditions and by the colonial imagination in the sense of preserving “disappearing” cultures (Carby 1990). Hurston’s ethnographic fiction has been employed to challenge those who question the reliability of fictionalized ethnography (Lawrence 2000).

  • Carby, Hazel V. 1990. The politics of fiction, anthropology and the folk: Zora Neale Hurston. In New Essays on Their Eyes Were Watching God. Edited by Michael Awkward, 71–90. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Carby notes that anthropology gave Hurston a “professional point of view” and ethnography was a tool she used to present the discourse of rural blacks. She argues that the colonial imagination influenced Hurston’s use of anthropology in that she sought both to preserve a “disappearing culture” and to “make the unknown known” (p. 80).

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  • Lawrence, David Todd. 2000. Folkloric representation and extended context in the experimental ethnography of Zora Neale Hurston. Southern Folklore 57.2: 119–134.

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    Uses Hurston’s ethnographic fiction to challenge arguments that question the reliability and acceptability of fictionalized ethnography. Positions Hurston’s unconventional forms of data collecting as resulting in reliable representations of African American folk culture.

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  • Meehan, Kevin. 2001. Decolonizing ethnography: Zora Neale Hurston in the Caribbean. In Women at sea: Travel writing and the margins of Caribbean discourse. Edited by Lizabeth Paravisini and Ivette Romero-Cesareo, 245–279. New York: Palgrave.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-08515-3_11Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contained in a volume on women’s travel writings, Meehan’s essay argues that Hurston’s Tell My Horse is a finely drawn critique of the limits of decolonization, especially as it relates to women.

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  • Staple, Jennifer. 2006. Zora Neale Hurston’s construction of authenticity through ethnographic innovation. Western Journal of Black Studies 30.1: 62–68.

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    Positions Hurston’s play “Mule Bone” as a purveyor of inventive ethnographic and dramatic methods that employed oral tradition, folklore, and fieldwork to put forth a path-breaking postmodernist style.

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Black Feminist and Women of Color Anthropology

Black women practitioners within the discipline of anthropology have claimed Hurston as a foremother, extolled her numerous contributions, and held her up as perhaps the primary example of the complex and intersecting gendered, raced, and political positionalities black women must negotiate within the field. Foundational texts in black feminist anthropology highlight her success in imparting anthropology to a broader audience, as in Harrison 1990, and note her prescient attention to anthropological debates around knowledge, authority, ethnography as literary text, and disciplinary imperialism, as in Harrison and Harrison 1999. Black feminist anthropologists have also exposed the logics behind Hurston’s non-canonical status. Bolles 1990 notes that Hurston’s anthropological work was marginalized even in the First Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival. McClaurin 2001 (cited under General Overviews) argues that Hurston has been wrongly sidelined from anthropology and that although the reason often stated for this omission is that she never completed her PhD, there are white men from the same period without academic credentials who gained entry into the canon. For McClaurin (as per argument in Gordon 1990, cited under Native Anthropology and Ethnographic Authority), this suggests that Hurston’s displacement is due to her race and gender. McClaurin notes that Hurston’s methods were subjected to Franz Boas’s in-depth ethnographic field training. Hurston’s significance for black feminist anthropology also rests in that she intentionally applied her training toward a native anthropological approach, to the study of African American culture and folklore, and to exploring life in the Caribbean and Latin America (McClaurin 2001, p. 12, cited under General Overviews). Hurston’s pioneering work in the Caribbean and Central America has influenced her successors, whose sense of an anthropology of the “African diaspora,” combines a gaze that is cast outward (to Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe) but also cast inward to America. It is this bidirectional gaze, McClaurin argues, that distinguishes black feminist anthropology from conventional anthropology. Bolles 2013 applies Harrison’s concept of decolonizing anthropology as a black feminist framework for transforming the discipline’s imperialist origins. Visweswaran 1994, Hoffman-Jeep 2005, and Cotera 2008 are among the advocates for analyzing Hurston’s work from the perspectives of feminist and interpretive anthropology. Davis and Craven 2016 follows Hernández 1999 (cited under Native Anthropology and Ethnographic Authority) in acknowledging the blurring of genres in Mules and Men, applying this and Hurston’s use of the ethnographic voice in Their Eyes Were Watching God to position her as a feminist stylistic innovator.

  • Bolles, A. Lynn. 1990. Pilgrimage to Eatonville: The first annual Zora Neale Hurston festival, Eatonville, Florida, January 25–28, 1990. Transforming Anthropology 1.1 (January): 16–17.

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    Provides an overview of the festival in Hurston’s “hometown,” which included an academic conference. Notes figures in attendance, including the actress Ruby Dee, Hurston biographer Robert Hemenway, and writer Alice Walker. Notes the absence of analysis of Hurston’s anthropological work in the academic conference and includes Bolles’s personal reflections on Hurston’s significance as another black woman who decided to “take up the gauntlet of anthropology.”

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  • Bolles, A. Lynn. 2013. Telling the story straight: Black feminist intellectual thought in anthropology. Transforming Anthropology 21.1: 57–71.

    DOI: 10.1111/traa.12000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sets an agenda for black feminist anthropology by tracing the legacy of African American women anthropologists including Hurston, Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, and Vera Green. Notes that Hurston’s approach challenged the ideal of scientific objectivity promoted by her colleagues and mentors. Applies Faye V. Harrison’s concept of “decolonizing anthropology” from Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Forward Toward an Anthropology of Liberation (1991), as a paradigm for transforming the imperialist origins of the discipline.

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  • Cotera, María Eugenia. 2008. Native speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita González, and the poetics of culture. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    A comparative reading of the three authors’ works that attends both to overlaps and differences, in order to offer a revisionist history centered on women of color intellectuals and a methodology for comparative analysis. With sections on ethnographic meaning making and storytelling, and the decolonial imagination, this study examines how each eschewed the conventions of their disciplines “to explore the political and poetic possibilities of fiction” (p. 6).

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  • Davis, Dana-Ain, and Crista Craven. 2016. Feminist ethnography: Thinking through methodologies, challenges, and possibilities. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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    Included in a periodization of feminist ethnography, Hurston appears throughout the text as an influential figure. Hurston is characterized as a feminist stylistic innovator in keeping with some of the critiques of the postmodern turn. Davis and Craven cite both the racism within the discipline and the anthropological emphasis on native North Americans and on non-Western cultures as factors in minimizing Hurston’s contributions to the field. Includes an excerpt from Mules and Men.

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  • Harrison, Faye V. 1990. “Three women, one struggle”: Anthropology, performance and pedadgogy. Transforming Anthropology 1.1 (January): 1–9.

    DOI: 10.1525/tran.1990.1.1.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Inaugural essay in the journal of the Association of Black Anthropologists. Argues that Hurston and Katherine Dunham, particularly in their attention to performance and expressive culture made early, yet initially underappreciated contributions to anthropology, fiction, drama and dance, and in doing so, communicated anthropological knowledge to broader, non-academic audiences. Situates Harrison’s own “anthro-performance” pedagogy as stemming from these earlier women’s works.

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  • Harrison, Faye V., and Ira E. Harrison. 1999. Introduction: Anthropology, African Americans, and the emancipation of a subjugated knowledge. In African-American pioneers in anthropology. Edited by Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison, 1–36. Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    This useful introductory chapter situates Hurston as a pioneer whose positionality and ethnographic writings predated post-1960s anthropological debates around knowledge, authority, disciplinary imperialism, and ethnography as literary text. Notes that, in addition to training under Boas, Hurston assisted the “father of Afro-American anthropology” Melville Herskovits in collecting physical measures and genealogical data. Positions Hurston as the foremother of African American women anthropologists such as Johnnetta Cole.

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  • Hoffman-Jeep, Lynda. 2005. Creating ethnography: Zora Neale Hurston and Lydia Cabrera. African American Review 337–353.

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    Compares the literary works and lives of Hurston and Cuban ethnographer Lydia Cabrera to argue that both demonstrated creative ethnographic strategies in response to traditional anthropology. Hoffman-Jeep understands both authors as “early examples of experimental and feminist ethnography” (p. 338).

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  • Mikell, Gwendolyn. 1999. Feminism and black culture in the ethnography of Zora Neale Hurston. In African American pioneers in anthropology. Edited by Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison, 51–69. Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    Informative essay centered on Hurston’s ethnographic and folklore work between 1918 and 1938. Argues that although she has not been acknowledged in the anthropological canon, Hurston’s approach, which was at once “contextual, literal, creatively symbolic, and participatory (p. 53), explored neglected and complex relationships within black culture and with particular concern for black women. Advocates for viewing Hurston’s work through the lenses of feminist and interpretive anthropology (p. 66).

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  • Visweswaran, Kamala. 1994. Fictions of feminist ethnography. Minneapolis and London: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    Destabilizing the borders between fiction and feminist ethnography, this study notes that Hurston’s work blended ethnographic, autobiographical, and novelistic genres. Points to the autobiographical qualities of Hurston’s “mixed-genre ethnography” Tell My Horse and to the ethnographic traits in Hurston’s autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. Asserts that Hurston is known more for contributions to the Harlem Renaissance than to anthropology because she refused to objectify African American culture by applying traditional anthropological methods, instead opting to inscribe them within the parameters of storytelling.

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Black Subjectivities, Personal Experiences, and Experimental Ethnography

Hurston negotiated multiple experiences and positionalities throughout her opus. The skill with which she incorporated her identities as a black woman from small-town Florida, as a public intellectual and a member of Harlem’s literati, as a student of “Papa Franz,” and as a writer dependent on white philanthropy has formed the entry point for a number of discussions of her corpus. McClaurin 2009 and McClaurin 2012, reflect on the extent to which contemporary black anthropologists “walk in Zora’s shoes,” as they are deeply influenced by the intersections between her identities as an anthropologist and as a black woman. Researchers such as Glassman and Seidel 1991 have noted how growing up in Eatonville, one of the first black self-governing towns in the United States, shaped Hurston’s political outlook and stimulated her interest in black folklore. Eatonville became a central character in all of Hurston’s work, served as the site for her first fieldwork trips while studying under Boas, and shaped her identity as a “native ethnographer.” Hurston’s black subjectivity informed her insider/outsider perspective, Johnson 1985, Frydman 2009, Humphries 2009, and her fieldwork is held up today by anthropologists of the African diaspora as trailblazing, not only in terms of her early recognition of the value and importance of black culture but also as foundational examples of experimental ethnography. Deck 1990 predates Visweswaran 1994 (cited under Black Feminist and Women of Color Anthropology) in identifying Hurston’s innovative application of autoethnographic elements in Dust Tracks on a Road. Numerous scholars have grappled with how Hurston translated her experiences to the page and how, in the process her politics were sometimes misunderstood, noting for example her efforts to reveal black agency (Patterson 2005) and her attempts to negotiate multiple positionalities (Pietka 2014). Newman 2003 finds points of comparison between Hurston’s relationships with white patrons and characterizations in Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Sánchez-Eppler 1992 explores how Hurston’s anthropological training shaped her perspective when she returned home. McClaurin 2012 is a cogent and important reflection that considers how the constant framing of Hurston through the lens of literature has overshadowed her contributions to anthropology. McClaurin notes that Hurston used an African diasporic focus that followed Melville Herkovits and centered black expressive culture in a manner influenced by W. E. B. DuBois but that she charted a groundbreaking course with considerable innovations in native anthropology, ethnographic methods, and visual anthropology. Had cuts in her academic funding not prohibited her from designing her own PhD course of study, McClaurin argues that she would have established a field of black studies within anthropology. Hurston continues to influence anthropologists aimed at representing black vernacular and dedicated to disrupting mainstream ways of knowing, as in Jackson 2005.

  • Deck, Alice A. 1990. Autoethnography: Zora Neale Hurston, Noni Jabavu, and cross-disciplinary discourse. Black American Literature Forum 24.2 (Summer): 237–256.

    DOI: 10.2307/3041706Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contrasts Dust Tracks on a Road with other autobiographies of African Americans, arguing that it defies the traditional framework of autobiography and rejects the consciously political self, instead entwining elements of autobiography with ethnographic elements.

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  • Frydman, Jason. 2009. Zora Neale Hurston, biographical criticism, and African diasporic vernacular culture. MELUS 34.4: 99–118, 228.

    DOI: 10.1353/mel.0.0064Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that the multiple ways in which Hurston’s life and work have been investigated, from narrative, ethnographic, critical, and biographical approaches, have positioned Hurston as a figure whose audience enjoys a familiarity with the author akin to the intimate black vernacular she celebrated.

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  • Glassman, Steve, and Kathryn Lee Seidel, eds. 1991. Zora in Florida. Orlando: Univ. of Central Florida Press.

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    With an introduction by the editors and fifteen essays, this volume centers on central Florida as the place that inspired Hurston’s work. Aimed at covering major phases of Hurston’s life in Florida, essays center on voodoo in Jonah’s Gourd Vine, on her work for the WPA Florida writer’s project, on Mules and Men and on Dust Tracks on a Road. Attention is also given to the play “Color Struck” and short fiction, “Sweat,” with a final chapter devoted to Hurston’s legal entanglements.

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  • Humphries, David T. 2009. Returning south: Reading culture in James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men. Southern Literary Journal 41.2: 69–86.

    DOI: 10.1353/slj.0.0048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Literary criticism comparing and contrasting Hurston’s work with that of Agee. Suggests that Hurston’s text reveals the dynamism and collaborative features of her hometown, Eatonville, Florida. Follows critics who have separated Hurston from “Zora,” the text’s reporter figure and likens this to Agee’s “James” character. Both are seen as negotiating complex personal and professional histories and obligations while producing original cultural representations.

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  • Jackson, John L., Jr. 2005. Real black: Adventures in racial sincerity. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Hurston appears throughout Jackson’s experimental ethnography as an alter ego whose persona he adopts to overcome his own shyness. He appropriates Hurston’s famous boldness and intrepid approach to fieldwork and traces his representation of black vernacular culture through her legacy.

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  • Johnson, Barbara. 1985. Thresholds of difference: Structures of address in Zora Neale Hurston. Critical Inquiry 12.1 (Autumn): 278–289.

    DOI: 10.1086/448330Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focused on the essays “How it Feels to Be Colored Me,” and “What White Publishers Won’t Print,” and Mules and Men, Johnson assesses Hurston’s strategies and structures of problematic address to contend that more than a “noncanonical” writer, Hurston exposes the dynamics of any insider/outsider opposition.

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  • McClaurin, Irma. 2009. Walking in Zora’s shoes or “seek[ing] out the inside meanin’ of words”: The intersections of anthropology, ethnography, identity, and writing. In Anthropology off the shelf: Anthropologists on writing. Edited by Alisse Waterson and Maria D. Vesperi, 119–133. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    Situated around what Hurston the writer imparts about writing, identity, and ethnography, seeks to “re-enshrine” her into “the canon of interpretive and reflexive anthropology” (p. 125). Makes the case that Hurston’s research topics and execution anticipated the new vanguard of African-descended anthropologists and that her attention to multiple audiences and to public engagement has shaped the author and a generation of black anthropologists.

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  • McClaurin, Irma. 2012. Zora Neale Hurston: Enigma, heterodox, and progenitor of black studies. Fire!!! 1.1: 49–67.

    DOI: 10.5323/fire.1.1.0049Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this important multimedia article McClaurin aptly positions Hurston as a generative figure whose considerable innovations in “native anthropology,” ethnographic methods, and visual anthropology influenced black feminist anthropologists. McClaurin also makes a broader argument for Hurston’s role as an unclaimed forerunner of black studies/African American studies. With audio recordings of McClaurin, Zora Neale and Lucy Hurston, along with photographs and images of letters to and from Hurston.

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  • Newman, Judie. 2003. “Dis ain’t gimme, Florida”: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Modern Language Review 98.4 (October): 817–826.

    DOI: 10.2307/3737926Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that gift exchange operates as “a threat, a potential act of aggression” in different plot points and interpersonal relationships in Their Eyes Were Watching God, as well as in Hurston’s own experiences with her white female patrons who funded her field work.

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  • Patterson, Tiffany Ruby. 2005. Zora Neale Hurston and a history of southern life. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    Situated against criticisms that Hurston fails to adequately critique the subjugated condition of her subjects, Patterson insists that her ethnographic and literary work makes a concerted effort to study black people’s agency, subjectivity, and visibility outside the normalizing confines of white paradigms and power structures.

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  • Pietka, Rachel. 2014. There is no me like my statue: Life and text in Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road. Pacific Coast Philology 49.1: 99–111.

    DOI: 10.5325/pacicoasphil.49.1.0099Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads the expressive and stylistic challenges in Hurston’s autobiography not as an aesthetic of resistance but rather as an attempt to negotiate the multiplicity of her personal experiences and literary precursors.

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  • Sánchez-Eppler, Benigno. 1992. Telling anthropology: Zora Neale Hurston and Gilberto Freyre disciplined in their field-home-work. American Literary History 4.3 (Autumn): 464–488.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/4.3.464Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comparative discussion of Hurston and another protégé of Franz Boas, the Brazilian anthropologist, Gilberto Freyre, examining the two as “displaced subjectivities,” whose training away from their cultures of origin shaped their views upon returning home.

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  • Ward, Cynthia. 2012. Truths, lies, Mules and Men: Through the “spyglass of anthropology” and what Zora saw there. Western Journal of Black Studies 36.4: 301.

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    Locates a turning point in Hurston’s fieldwork in which, prompted by Franz Boas, she realizes the dynamic nature and futurity of African American oral traditions.

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Native Anthropology and Ethnographic Authority

The ways Hurston exposed the power dynamics of ethnographic authority predated post 1960s debates in anthropology. Her writings have been considered as ahead-of-their-time engagements with the challenges and rewards of being a “native anthropologist” (Adams 1991, Boxwell 1992, Jirousek 2006). Hurston negotiated these challenges by unapologetically including herself in the text. She simultaneously critiqued the privileged academic’s ability to understand “the Other” and depended on the analytical tools of anthropology (Hernández 1999). Jacobs 1997 noted how Hurston’s “spy-glass of anthropology” metaphor exposed the difficulties of being a novelist and an ethnographer, as well as how her identity as a black anthropologist enabled her fieldwork due to commonalities with her subjects (Mikell 1982).

  • Adams, Amelia Marie. 1991. Zora Neale Hurston: Native anthropologist. In All about Zora: Views and reviews by colleagues and scholars, at the academic conference of the First Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts, January 26–27, 1990, Eatonville, Florida. Edited by Alice Morgan Grant, 35–42. Winter Park, FL: Four-G.

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    Employs Mules and Men and Tell My Horse to position Hurston as the first native anthropologist. Uses Delmos Jones’s definition from his 1970 article, “Towards a Native Anthropology.”

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  • Boxwell, D. A. 1992. “Sis Cat” as ethnographer: Self-presentation and self-inscription in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men. African American Review 26.4 (Winter): 605.

    DOI: 10.2307/3041874Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Hurston was ahead of her time in understanding the power dynamics of ethnographic authority. Advocates for recognizing her important accomplishments as a professional folklorist and ethnologist, suggesting that her self-presentation in the text shifted the foundations of traditional anthropology.

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  • Dorst, John. 1987. Rereading Mules and Men: Toward the death of the ethnographer. Cultural Anthropology 2.3 (August): 305–318.

    DOI: 10.1525/can.1987.2.3.02a00030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends Hurston’s social science work is “more important than her fiction from the perspective of critical theory” and that Mules and Men relates to debates around ethnographic experimentation.

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  • Ewing, Adam. 2014. Lying up a nation: Zora Neale Hurston and the local uses of diaspora. Callaloo 37.1: 130–147.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2014.0015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how Hurston’s celebration of “roots” throughout her literary oeuvre, particularly how her attention to the local dynamics of black identity formation contributes to conceptualizing the African diaspora as a building block for political action.

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  • Gordon, Deborah. 1990. The politics of ethnographic authority: Race and writing in the ethnography of Margaret Mead and Zora Neale Hurston. In Modernist anthropology: From fieldwork to text. Edited by Marc Manganaro, 146–162. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Employs Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and Hurston’s Tell My Horse to investigate what could count as professional ethnography in the 1920s and 1930s. Argues that race and gender were factors barring both ethnographers from achieving professional status and obtaining university positions. Contrasts the two women’s ethnographic practice “to show the connections between disciplinization, style, and race and gender in the making of professional anthropology” (p. 150).

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  • Hernández, Graciela. 1999. Multiple mediations in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men. Critique of Anthropology 13:351–362.

    DOI: 10.1177/0308275X9301300404Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Honed in on Hurston’s acts of mediation vis-à-vis her position as native anthropologist, Hernández asserts that Hurston negotiates between a “refusal to cast off the analytical tools of her trade” and a critique of academic privilege that reveals the limitations of knowing an “Other” (p. 351). Hernández draws comparisons to Native American anthropologist, Ella Deloria.

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  • Jacobs, Karen. 1997. From the “spy-glass” to “horizon”: Tracking the anthropological gaze in Zora Neale Huston. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 30.3 (Spring): 329–360.

    DOI: 10.2307/1345759Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Positions Hurston’s “spy-glass of anthropology” metaphor as her most quoted but least interrogated image. Analyzes the challenges Hurston’s dual identity as novelist and ethnographer posed for her.

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  • Jirousek, Lori. 2004. “That commonality of feeling”: Hurston, hybridity, and ethnography. African American Review 417–427.

    DOI: 10.2307/1512443Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reexamines Hurston’s ethnographic works in light of Franz Boas’s influences and its relationship to Homi Bhabha’s notion of cultural hybridity to reveal implications as mixed genre, cultural record, and racial commentary.

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  • Jirousek, Lori. 2006. Ethnics and ethnographers: Zora Neale Hurston and Anzia Yezierska. Journal of Modern Literature 29.2: 19–32, 166.

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    Frames Hurston and Anzia Yezierska (a Jewish immigrant from Poland) as “ethnic American writers” whose cross-genre texts challenged ethnographic methodology, particularly participant-observation, and in turn, the ethnographic genre itself.

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  • Mikell, Gwendolyn. 1982. When horses talk: Reflections on Zora Neale Hurston’s Haitian anthropology. Phylon: The Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture 43.3: 218–230.

    DOI: 10.2307/274819Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Underscores the challenges and contradictions that Hurston negotiates in her role as both insider and outsider in Tell My Horse. Suggests that although her anthropological methodology is informed but not determined by her academic training and trends in the field, her effectiveness as a black anthropologist stems from the commonalities she shares with people in Jamaica and Haiti (e.g., issues of race, class, and oppression).

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Transnational Ethnography and Decolonialism

With ethnographic writings and fieldwork expeditions spanning the United States and the Caribbean, Hurston collected fieldwork throughout Florida, was initiated into voodoo rituals in New Orleans, assisted Melville Herskovits in measuring skulls in Harlem, and studied gender, politics, and voodoo in Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras, and the Bahamas. Her messages have been read as imperialist (Duck 2004) and anti-imperialist (Meehan 2008). She is at once championed for her advanced attention to the cultural processes of the black Atlantic (Young 2008) and critiqued for her endorsement of US imperialism in Haiti (Duck 2004). Nwankwo 2003 applies her insider/outsider approach toward reflecting on her contributions to transnational black studies.

  • Duck, Leigh Anne. 2004. “Rebirth of a nation”: Hurston in Haiti. Journal of American Folklore 117.464: 127–146.

    DOI: 10.1353/jaf.2004.0032Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Duck complicates critiques of Hurston’s political positions in Tell My Horse that are centered around her eulogy of US imperialism in Haiti. Argues that this transnational ethnography reveals Hurston’s ambivalence toward US nationalism and explains the contradictions evident in her celebrating black culture, while distancing herself from black political movements.

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  • Meehan, Kevin. 2008. Decolonizing ethnography: Spirit possession and resistance in Tell My Horse. Obsidian 9.1: 59–73.

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    Argues that Hurston’s “ethnographizing narrator” functions as a character in an ethnographic drama, revealing a strong anti-imperialist message that is predicated on forceful criticisms both of ethnography and the conventional travelogue tradition of representing Caribbean cultures.

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  • Nwankwo, Ifeoma Kiddoe. 2003. Insider and outsider, black and American: Rethinking Zora Neale Hurston’s Caribbean ethnography. Radical History Review 87.1: 49–77.

    DOI: 10.1215/01636545-2003-87-49Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Puts Hurston’s approach to constructing and articulating community in Mules of Men in conversation with her representations of the Caribbean in Tell My Horse to reflect on what both offer regarding tensions between community members and anthropological voice, and what the latter contributes to transnational black studies scholarship.

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  • Young, Jason. 2008. Of Moses, mules, and men: Zora Neale Hurston and the politics of folk art. Obsidian 9.1 (Spring): 9–19.

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    Credits Mules and Men and Moses, Man of the Mountain as early understandings of black Atlantic culture formulated around the particularities of place, and the complex connections between distinct cultural processes.

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Voodoo, Hoodoo, and Haiti

Hurston’s article, “Hoodoo in America,” published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1931, is regarded as an unparalleled exploration of voodoo in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Hurston interpreted voodoo as a legitimate religious practice, and because she was a participant-observer in the most literal sense, she apprenticed with voodoo priests and priestesses, was initiated multiple times, and recorded uniquely rich firsthand descriptions of voodoo ceremonies. Mules and Men was the first collection of African American folklore published by an African American and is regarded as a pioneering study of voodoo. Lindroth 1987 and Logan 2008 examine her contributions toward legitimizing the study of hoodoo and validating African spirituality, while Lowe 1998 highlights Hurston’s shifting emphasis on religion. Haiti was a critical site for Hurston, not only for her ethnographic treatments of the island but also because it influenced her to study hoodoo in Louisiana (Fischer-Hornung 2008) and for its impact on Their Eyes Were Watching God, which she wrote there (Stein 1996, Lamothe 1999, Jennings 2013). Scholars have employed Hurston’s Tell My Horse to interrogate her favorable assessment of US imperialism in Haiti (Trefzer 2000) and to interpret her analysis of Caribbean gender constructions (Stein 1996). Dutton 1993 situates Hurston’s work on voodoo as the gateway for Alice Walker’s revitalization of her writings.

  • Dutton, Wendy. 1993. The problem of invisibility: Voodoo and Zora Neale Hurston. Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 13.2: 131–152.

    DOI: 10.2307/3346733Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Places Mules and Men and Hurston’s work on voodoo as the entry point for Alice Walker’s resurrection of Hurston’s writings. Critiques the texts both in terms of their success as anthropological studies and as a works of fiction.

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  • Fischer-Hornung, Dorothea. 2008. “Keep alive the powers of Africa”: Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Deren, and the Circum-Caribbean Culture of Vodoun. Atlantic Studies 5.3 (December): 347–362.

    DOI: 10.1080/14788810802445099Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Haiti as a critical site in the three authors’ works, suggesting that Hurston’s explorations of vodoun in Haiti influenced her to engage with hoodoo in Louisiana.

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  • Jennings, L. Vinia Delois. 2013. Zora Neale Hurston, Haiti, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press.

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    This edited volume demonstrates how Hurston’s study of Haitian voudoun influences the character formation, plot, symbolism, and theme of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Essays suggest that like the syncretic religions she studied, the cultural and religious currents of the African diaspora animated Hurston’s fiction.

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  • Lamothe, Daphne. 1999. Vodou imagery, African-American tradition and cultural transformation in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Callaloo 22.1 (Winter): 157–175.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.1999.0035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes the Haitian vodou imagery as a vehicle for understanding the relationship among migration, culture, and identity.

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  • Lindroth, James R. 1987. Generating the vocabulary of hoodoo: Zora Neale Hurston and Ishmael Reed. Zora Neale Forum 2.1: 27–34.

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    Places Hurston’s recurring attention to hoodoo as a critical part of African American culture in conversation with Reed’s representation of hoodoo as a counter-hegemonic force.

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  • Logan, Mawuena. 2008. Metaphysical cloning: An African epistemology in the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Maryse Condé. Obsidian 9.1 (Spring): 20–30.

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    Positions Hurston’s work, particularly Mules and Men, as influencing Conde’s celebration and validation of African spirituality. Centered on the African notion of metaphysical or conceptual immortality, Logan argues that Hurston’s attention to African diasporic cultures and cosmology was pioneering.

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  • Lowe, John. 1998. Seeing beyond seeing: Zora Neale Hurston’s religion(s). Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 36.3: 77–87.

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    Investigates Hurston’s complex understanding of, attention to, and shifting emphasis on religion, with attention to her move away from religion in her unpublished novel, “Herod the Great.”

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  • Stein, Rachel. 1996. Remembering the sacred tree: Black women, nature and voodoo in Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Women’s Studies 25.5: 465–482.

    DOI: 10.1080/00497878.1996.9979131Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers Tell My Horse and Their Eyes Were Watching God, both written in Haiti, as demonstrating Hurston’s attention to the intersections of colonial understandings of race, sex, and nature. Explores Hurston’s suggestion that Caribbean racial and gender constructions cast black women as animals, constructions that they use African-derived spirituality to challenge and contest.

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  • Trefzer, Annette. 2000. Possessing the self: Caribbean identities in Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse. African American Review 34.2: 299–312.

    DOI: 10.2307/2901255Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Hurston’s interest in Caribbean history and religion as indicative of her cross-cultural attention to identity politics circa the Second World War. Explores contradictions between Hurston’s endorsement of US occupation of Haiti, and her positionality as a black American ethnographer.

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Children’s Books

The wide scope of Hurston’s influence and the contemporary appreciation for her folklore is also evidenced in the growing list of children’s and young adult books that draw from both her life story and from her work as an anthropologist and a folklorist. As Kaplan observes in the introduction to Every Tongue Got to Confess (2001), Hurston intended to publish an entire volume on children’s games based on the material she collected on folklore from the American South. Annotated here are three works, Hurston, et al. 2004; Hurston, et al. 2005; and Hurston and Myers 2015, which draw on the folklore in Every Tongue Got to Confess. Fradin and Fradin 2012 offers a biography that begins in 1950, with a portrait of the fifty-nine-year-old, nearly penniless Hurston, before providing a succinct overview of her life and accomplishments.

Films, Film Commentary, and Visual Anthropology

A few useful documentaries such as Pollard 2008 and Lowe and Lowe 2008 utilize primary sources, commentary by noted experts, and accounts from individuals who knew Hurston. Barnette 1990 is a dramatic film about Hurston that also draws from a play penned by and starring Ruby Dee. Scholars have yet to fully document Hurston’s advancements to visual anthropology, but Charnov 1998 and Wagers 2013 have begun to do so.

  • Barnette, Neema, dir. 1990. American playhouse: Zora is my name! VHS. Arlington, VA: PBS Home Video.

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    Dramatic film starring Ruby Dee and based on the play she authored. Includes depictions of events in Hurston’s life alongside dramatizations of sketches from her works.

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  • Charnov, Elaine S. 1998. The performative visual anthropology films of Zora Neale Hurston. Film Criticism 23.1 (Fall): 38–47, 84.

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    Utilizes the films Hurston recorded during her second folklore-collecting fieldwork expedition to central and southern Florida in the late 1920s. Maintains that the performative acts Hurston filmed are rare and important historical footage and that she anticipated issues central to visual anthropology.

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  • Haas, Robert. 2004. The story of Louis Pasteur and the making of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God: A famous film influencing a famous novel? Literature/Film Quarterly 32.1: 12–19.

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    Finds connections between Hurston’s depiction of rabies in her novel and the popular dramatic film about Louis Pasteur. Contends that although devalued by critics, Hurston’s rabies scenes were medically accurate and resonated with African American experiences with the disease.

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  • Lowe, Keri, and Tom Lowe. 2008. Zora’s roots: The life of Zora Neale Hurston. DVD. Seattle, WA: Eagle Productions.

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    This documentary film includes interviews with people who knew Hurston and dramatic reenactments.

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  • Pollard, Sam, dir. 2008. Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the sun. DVD. Tampa, FL: Bottom Bay News and American Masters.

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    Documentary utilizing commentary from scholars including Cheryl Wall, Valerie Boyd, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., photographs, and archival footage from the rural South to chronicle Hurston’s life and work. Reflects on her training with Franz Boas and her ethnographic contributions, including her depictions of meaningfulness of syncretic black religions. Features insights from writers who Hurston inspired, including Alice Walker and Maya Angelou.

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  • Wagers, Kelley. 2013. “How come you ain’t got it?”: Dislocation as historical act in Hurston’s documentary texts. African American Review 46.2: 201–216.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2013.0055Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Frames Hurston’s filmic documentation of religious practices in South Carolina, in her dual role as ethnographer and participant, as a methodology that enriches historical representations of blackness by privileging rurality and contemporaneity.

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Literary Criticism, Modernism, and Postmodernism

Literary criticism positions Hurston’s ethnographically informed fiction both within and outside of prevalent critical categories. Literary scholars such as Carr and Cooper 2002 and Duck 2001 argue that Hurston’s life and work unsettle master narratives of modernity, modernism, and postmodernism, while Pavlić 2004 and Konzett 2002 pose her unique, resistant aesthetic as a pioneering example of black modernism. Powers 2002 highlights how her rearing in the rural South was unusual among Harlem Renaissance peers. Authors such as Harrison 1996 and Karanja 1999 credit Hurston with challenging ethnographic methodologies.

  • Carr, Brian, and Tova Cooper. 2002. Zora Neale Hurston and modernism at the critical limit. Modern Fiction Studies 48.2: 285–313.

    DOI: 10.1353/mfs.2002.0018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Employs Hurston’s Mules and Men to question modernism’s critical difference from modernity. Analyzes scholarly debates that position Hurston’s text as either postmodernist or modernist, arguing that she destabilizes both categories.

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  • Duck, Leigh Anne. 2001. “Go there tuh know there”: Zora Neale Hurston and the chronotope of folk. American Literary History 13.2 (Summer): 265–294.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/13.2.265Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Duck seeks to untangle divergent implications of the “folk” in Hurston’s work. Problematizing the critiques of her representations of black ruralism as nostalgic, which some critics see as unwittingly bolstering racist segregation, Duck considers Hurston’s folk a site where individualist agency emerges on the fringe of, but not antagonistically to, the paradigm of nationalist modernity.

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  • Harrison, Beth. 1996. Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Austin: A case study in ethnography, literary modernism, and contemporary ethnic fiction. MELUS 21.1 (Summer): 89–106.

    DOI: 10.2307/467952Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reveals how Hurston’s narrative strategies bolster and challenge Boas’s notion of cultural relativism. Argues that both Hurston and Austin subvert Boas’s participant-observation methodology and question ideas of “objective” knowledge and “accurate” reportage. Essay is reprinted as “Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Hunter Austin’s Ethnographic Fiction: New Modernist Narratives,” in Elizabeth Jane, Harrison, and Shirley Peterson. Unmanning Modernism: Gendered Re-readings (1997, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press).

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  • Karanja, Ayana I. 1999. Zora Neale Hurston: The breath of her voice. New York: Peter Lang.

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    Interdisciplinary approach combining interpretive methods in ethnographic writing and literary studies to position Hurston as an early example of postmodern anthropology because she not only challenged ethnographic conventions but also utilized nontraditional discursive modes. Karanja explores Hurston’s practice of collapsing fact and fiction, connecting it to the approaches of other black women writers including Julie Dash, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, and Toni Morrison.

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  • Konzett, Delia Caparoso. 2002. Ethnic modernisms: Anzia Yezierska, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Rhys, and the aesthetics of dislocation. New York: Palgrave.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230107533Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Locates and re-centers ethnic diversity in modernist literature. By de-situating Hurston from the “traditionalist” label that has been applied to much of her ethnographic and literary work, Konzett argues that Hurston’s continual engagement with the present positions her within modernism.

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  • Pavlić, Edward M. 2004. “Papa Legba, ouvrier Barriere pour moi passer”: Esu in their eyes and Zora Neale Hurston’s diasporic modernism. African American Review 38.1: 61–85.

    DOI: 10.2307/1512232Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interprets the character Esu-Elegba’s reappearance at pivotal moments of Their Eyes Were Watching God as an example of black diasporic modernism, informed by Hurston’s fieldwork in Haiti on African mythologies.

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  • Powers, Peter Kerry. 2002. Gods of physical violence, stopping at nothing: Masculinity, religion, and art in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Religion and American Culture: R & AC 12.2 (Summer): 229–247.

    DOI: 10.1525/rac.2002.12.2.229Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Literary critique of Hurston’s treatment of Afro-Christianity throughout her fictional, folkloric, and autobiographical work. Situates the convergence of masculinity, religion, and aesthetics in Hurston’s repertoire alongside how these discourses figure into the broader Harlem Renaissance, to argue that we can apply the role of Christianity in her life to revise the usual understanding of her gender politics.

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Performance Studies

Although much of the scholarship on Hurston has focused primarily on her literary accomplishments and secondarily on her anthropological and folkloric work, attention to her contributions in performance studies is growing. Early investigations include Lowe 1996 (cited under General Overviews) with its examination of the comic elements in her fiction and Lillios 1998, which included three performance-centered essays. Carpenter 2009 and Colbert 2011 have investigated and recuperated her theatrical works vocal performances (Brooks 2010) and dance performances (Kraut 2003, Kraut 2006, Kraut 2008). Hardison 2013 is distinctive in its treatment of Hurston’s underexplored final novel and for its attention to performance vis-à-vis the black girl.

  • Brooks, Daphne A. 2010. “Sister, can you line it out?”: Zora Neale Hurston and the sound of angular black womanhood. American Studies 55.4: 617–627.

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    Recuperates Hurston’s vocal performances, which have received less attention than her contributions in other genres and fields, to demonstrate how they subvert the boundaries between “scholar and informant, individual and community, folk culture and modernity” (p. 617). Argues that singing was an extension of Hurston’s critical ethnographic works that asserted a form of modern black womanhood.

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  • Carpenter, Faedra Chatard. 2009. Addressing “the complex”-ities of skin color: Intra-racism and the plays of Hurston, Kennedy, and Orlandersmith. Theatre Topics 19.1: 15–27.

    DOI: 10.1353/tt.0.0048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores colorism in Hurston’s play, Color Struck, placing it in comparison to dramatic works by Adrienne Kennedy and Dael Orlandersmith. Pedagogically oriented, this article addresses intra-racism and suggests ways of framing these plays in the classroom.

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  • Colbert, Soyica Diggs. 2011. The African American theatrical body: Reception, performance, and the stage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139027243Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With attention to the physical space of the theater and the discursive space of the page, analyzes how African American drama from both the past and the contemporary period critically contextualize the black body. Considers Color Struck and works by August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, and others, exploring each text as demonstrative of a central concern of its historical period.

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  • Hardison, Ayesha K. 2013. Crossing the threshold: Zora Neale Hurston, racial performance, and Seraph on the Suwanee. African American Review 46.2: 217–235.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2013.0063Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hurston’s final novel, neglected by critics, receives treatment here for its iteration of the “threshold figure,” one that straddles the fence between folk and observer. Hardison considers Hurston’s various representations of a performing black girl to argue that these characters increase the liminality of the threshold figure. Critically engages Hurston’s discourse on racial performance by reading across numerous texts and genres in which she worked.

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  • Kraut, Anthea. 2003. Between primitivism and diaspora: The dance performances of Josephine Baker, Zora Neale Hurston, and Katherine Dunham. Theatre Journal 55.3 (October): 433–450.

    DOI: 10.1353/tj.2003.0125Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Hurston’s understudied staging, direction, and performances in a series of dance productions in the Bahamas. Positions Hurston’s presentation of black diasporic folk dance in the United States and the Bahamas to argue that particularly her staging a West Indian dance cycle within the context of southern black culture represented a critical shift in the history of theatrical “representations of Black vernacular dance idioms.”

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  • Kraut, Anthea. 2006. Recovering Hurston, reconsidering the choreographer. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 16.1: 71–90.

    DOI: 10.1080/07407700500515936Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Recovers Hurston’s dance practice and uses her staging of black folk dance to add “choreographer” to her list of credits. This retroactive re-designation serves to reexamine the terms used to discuss dance and rethink the disciplinary understandings of artistry and artists.

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  • Kraut, Anthea. 2008. Choreographing the folk: The dance stagings of Zora Neale Hurston. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    Recovers Hurston’s theatrical concerts portraying Florida railroad work-camp laborers and featuring a Bahamian Fire Dance finale to expose the significance of Hurston’s underexplored choreography to black folk dance. Divided into themes, with sections on commercialization, choreography, production, embodied theory of the folk, interpretation, and black authenticity and white artistry.

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  • Lillios, Anna, ed. 1998. Special issue: Zora Neale Hurston. Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 36.3 (Spring): 7–102.

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    This special edition is devoted to Hurston’s work and includes three performance-focused essays by Neal A. Lester, Debra Beilke, and Barbara Speisman, and a Hurston story, essay, and play: “Under the Bridge,” “The Ten Commandments of Charm,” and “Spears,” which were published in the author’s Zeta Phi Beta sorority yearbooks in 1925 and 1926.

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New Directions in Hurston Scholarship

Hurston’s rich contributions continues to inspire new scholarship, including Stuelke 2014, a study of how Hurstonian fantasies in the 1970s and 1980s both obscured and fueled the US government’s political agenda in the Caribbean. Also included is Duvall 2008, an analysis of whiteface in Moses, Man of the Mountain, and Mock 2014, which claims Hurston’s protagonists to be animators of her quest for self-actualization.

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