From Publishers Weekly
Although Hurston is better known for her novels, particularly Their Eyes Were Watching God, she might have been prouder of her anthropological field work. In 1927, with the support of Franz Boas, the dean of American anthropologists, Hurston traveled the Deep South collecting stories from black laborers, farmers, craftsmen and idlers. These tales featured a cast of characters made famous in Joel Chandler Harris's bowdlerized Uncle Remus versions, including John (related, no doubt, to High John the Conqueror), Brer Fox and various slaves. But for Hurston these stories were more than entertainments; they represented a utopia created to offset the sometimes unbearable pressures of disenfranchisement: "Brer Fox, Brer Deer, Brer 'Gator, Brer Dawg, Brer Rabbit, Ole Massa and his wife were walking the earth like natural men way back in the days when God himself was on the ground and men could talk with him." Hurston's notes, which somehow got lost, were recently rediscovered in someone else's papers at the Smithsonian. Divided into 15 categories ("Woman Tales," "Neatest Trick Tales," etc.), the stories as she jotted them down range from mere jokes of a few paragraphs to three-page episodes. Many are set "in slavery time," with "massa" portrayed as an often-gulled, but always potentially punitive, presence. There are a variety of "how come" and trickster stories, written in dialect. Acting the part of the good anthropologist, Hurston is scrupulously impersonal, and, as a result, the tales bear few traces of her inimitable voice, unlike Tell My Horse, her classic study of Haitian voodoo. Though this may limit the book's appeal among general readers, it is a boon for Hurston scholars and may, as Kaplan says in her introduction, establish Hurston's importance as an African-American folklorist. (Dec.)Forecast: Hurston's name will ensure this title ample review coverage, and it should do well among lovers of folktales, particularly those curious about Hurston's career in the field.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Hurston (1891-1960) rises again with this delightful collection of authentic African American folklore gathered from 122 individuals during her travels in Florida, Alabama, and New Orleans in the late 1920s. Intended for publication in 1929, the manuscript found its way into the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian, where it was rediscovered and authenticated in 1991. Over 500 tales are presented as Hurston left them, in their vernacular dialect with no changes to grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, or dialect. A few of the tales appear among the 100 or so in Mules & Men (HarperCollins, 1990. reprint), but in contrast to that volume, in which Hurston contextualizes the tales and interjects her own personal experiences, this current collection offers isolated pieces organized within thematic groups (e.g., "God Tales" and "Mistaken Identity" tales). There are no interpretations, just annotations of folk expressions and slang taken mostly from Hurston's previously published glossaries and footnotes. With this new collection, Hurston provides an even greater sense of the black oral tradition, which demands appreciation and admiration. Highly recommended for general reading and for folklore collections in academic and large public libraries.- Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.