Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Essay: "Looking for Zora." Alice Walker. 1975.

One-minute review: In looking for the burial place of Zora Neale Hurston in Florida, the author meets a number of people who knew her. Their stories sometimes contradict each other. But Zora's personality, her ability to look at life as it is, without tears, and her independent thinking, seem to have separated her from her family, from her husband, and from the majority of other blacks. "She was not a teary sort of person...." And she was a great writer and collector of African-American folklore, who died in poverty.


“Zora Neale Hurston is one of the most significant unread authors in America.”

“Our own school and good teachers. Do I need integration?”

“But Miss Hurston was clever, too—a student who didn’t let college give her a broad ‘a’ and who had great scorn for all pretensions, academic or otherwise. That is why she was such a fine folklore collector, able to go among the people and never act as if she had been to school at all.” Langston Hughes.

“Dr. Benton seems startled. ‘Zora didn’t die of malnutrition,’ he says indignantly. Where did you get that story from? She had a stroke and she died in the welfare home.”

“She was always studying. Her mind—before the stroke—just worked all the time.”

“Her English was beautiful. (I suspect this is a clever way to let me know Zora herself didn’t speak in the ‘black English’ her characters used.)”

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes…. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. No, I do not weep at the world.” Zora Neale Hurston.

“There are times—and finding Zora Hurston’s grave was one of them—when normal responses of grief, horror, and so on do not make sense because they bear no real relation to the depth of the emotion one feels. It was impossible for me to cry when I saw the field full of weeds where Zora is. Partly this is because I have come to know Zora through her books and she was not a teary sort of person herself; but partly, too, it is because there is a point at which even grief feels absurd. And at this point, laughter gushes up to retrieve sanity.”

Best American Essays of the Century. Editors: Oates and Atwan. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000.

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