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Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writers Project Hardcover – February 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The writings of distinguished African-American Harlem Renaissance author, folklorist, playwright and anthropologist Hurston during her tenure (1938-39) in the Florida division of the Federal Writers Project, many of them previously unpublished, are collected here. They are augmented by Bordelon's biographical essay about Hurston's life during the year she participated in the project, and by her analysis and commentary. The FWP, a federally funded relief program that provided impoverished writers with employment, offered Hurston the lowliest position of "relief reporter," a title for which she was clearly overqualified. But Hurston, just three generations away from slavery, was accustomed to discrimination in a South where Jim Crow laws were still staunchly upheld. As a reporter for the FWP she was assigned to write 1500 words per week describing the lore of African-American Floridians, as part of a larger project, which was never realized and which, moreover, deleted most of Hurston's contributions from the manuscript-in-progress. Other work she submitted for the FWP was often ignored or heavily edited; a few pieces were included in an automotive guidebook, Florida. Included here are Hurston's transcriptions of African-American oral history: traditions, habits, folklore, lyrics and dances; as well as photographs of Hurston and associates, and her performance pieces and essays. Her notable observations on race, writing, her hometown and the upward mobility of blacks in her time are now invaluable historical resources. For Hurston fans, especially scholars, this book will offer a fuller picture of the writer's lesser-known literary endeavors.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA-This fascinating, previously unpublished series of writings from the 1930s will serve well as an independent reading experience or as a precursor to Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Rich references to folklore and music will be appreciated by students of English, music, or cultural anthropology, and such essays as "The Sanctified Church," with its hypnotic call-and-response patterns and references to free-form dancing, will enlighten readers, deepening their awareness of the original art forms expressed. The author's observations in "Other Negro Folklore Influences" and "Art and Such" are also valuable. Students familiar with the harsh criticisms of such eminent African-American artists of the time as Richard Wright and Sterling Brown may find much to reflect on in Hurston's lack of racial bitterness-a character trait that her contemporaries used against her. The excellent biographical essay by Pamela Bordelon refers to the "lively stories which compare images of heaven, hell, magical food and singing streets" that lace Hurston's writings. A logical organization guarantees accessibility, inviting readers to pursue particular topics or read the whole book.
Margaret Nolan, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 199 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; 1st edition (February 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393046958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393046953
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,064,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Zora Neale Hurston was born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. Her writings reveal no recollection of her Alabama beginnings. For Hurston, Eatonville was always home.
Growing up in Eatonville, in an eight-room house on five acres of land, Zora had a relatively happy childhood, despite frequent clashes with her preacher-father. Her mother, on the other hand, urged young Zora and her seven siblings to "jump at de sun."
Hurston's idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end, though, when her mother died in 1904. Zora was only 13 years old.
After Lucy Hurston's death, Zora's father remarried quickly and seemed to have little time or money for his children. Zora worked a series of menial jobs over the ensuing years, struggled to finish her schooling, and eventually joined a Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe as a maid to the lead singer. In 1917, she turned up in Baltimore; by then, she was 26 years old and still hadn't finished high school. Needing to present herself as a teenager to qualify for free public schooling, she lopped 10 years off her life--giving her age as 16 and the year of her birth as 1901. Once gone, those years were never restored: From that moment forward, Hurston would always present herself as at least 10 years younger than she actually was.
Zora also had a fiery intellect, and an infectious sense of humor. Zora used these talents--and dozens more--to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters.
By 1935, Hurston--who'd graduated from Barnard College in 1928--had published several short stories and articles, as well as a novel (Jonah's Gourd Vine) and a well-received collection of black Southern folklore (Mules and Men). But the late 1930s and early '40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her. That year, she was profiled in Who's Who in America, Current Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. She went on to publish another novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.
Still, Hurston never received the financial rewards she deserved. So when she died on Jan. 28, 1960--at age 69, after suffering a stroke--her neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida, had to take up a collection for her funeral. The collection didn't yield enough to pay for a headstone, however, so Hurston was buried in a grave that remained unmarked until 1973.
That summer, a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of the author who had so inspired her own work.
Walker entered the snake-infested cemetery where Hurston's remains had been laid to rest. Wading through waist-high weeds, she soon stumbled upon a sunken rectangular patch of ground that she determined to be Hurston's grave. Walker chose a plain gray headstone. Borrowing from a Jean Toomer poem, she dressed the marker up with a fitting epitaph: "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South."

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Sorel VINE VOICE on May 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
The book is a collection of writings that Hurston did while working in Florida for the Federal Writers' Project. Perhaps one of the bset features of the book is that the entire first half is a biographical essay on Hurston's time working for the FWP. Pamela Bordelon, the edited of the book and author of the essay, came upon Hurston's writing by accident when she was looking to write a book about Floridian folklore. When she came across the FWP papers she noticed that the majority of the stories and interviews were in a familiar hand and written in a manner that she recognized to be Hurston's writing. After confirming that it was Hurston's notes and essays, she went to Hurston's niece and the two worked together to write an essay about Hurston's time working for the Federal Writer's Project.

The second half of the book are a sampling of Hurston's writings from the FWP. This collection only includes folklore and tales from Florida and the West Indies. However, Hurston does not limit herself to merely the stories but also includes songs and art. Each folktale is preceeded an essay by Hurston explaining the history of the folktale and the importance of it in this specific culture. Preceeding Hurston's essay, is a short paragraph written by Bordelon explaining the biographical period in which Hurston wrote each of these essays.

In regards to folktales, the stories in this collection are rare and most people have probably not heard of them. That is to say, they are not Cinderella or Beauty in the Beast. Instead, they are much more "gritty" folktales that take place on inhumane plantations or in southern prisons. All of the tales are laden with superstitions that run the gamit from enormous animals to the hazards of not exhibiting proper behavior.
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