Editor's note: I've included a plethora of links
to Hurston's available novels, partly because I love the art on
the covers of the paperback editions, put out by Harperperennial.
The graphic of Hurston is from the cover of Dust Tracks on
Christine Daley City University of New York
Graduate School & University Center
A Rocky Road to Posterity: The Publication of
Zora Neale Hurston
of the publication history of Zora Neale Hurstons major
works reveals a glimpse into the cultural and political climate
of twentieth-century reading tastes. Hurston, a controversial
figure in her own time, has proved to be a touchstone of modern
reception of both African-American literature and unconventional
writing by women. In looking at the narrative of Hurstons
works as they fall in and out of favor with the reading public,
we can detect trends which uncover some truths about twentieth-century
reading appetites, publishing practices, and their relation to
the dominant discourse. This favorite of the Harlem Renaissance
has traveled a rocky road to posterity since the 1930s and why she is still
the subject of discussion has as much to do with forks in the
path of her publication history as it has to do with the power
of her writing. The first of Hurstons major works to be
published was Jonahs
Gourd Vinein 1934. In order for a major publishing
company like J.B. Lippincott to consider printing an African-American
female writer, she would necessarily have had to make a name
for herself elsewhere. After a relatively unhappy childhood
in various parts of the South, Hurston attended Howard University
and caught the eye of the editor of such periodicals as The
New Negro, Alain Locke, who championed other Harlem Renaissance
writers like Countee Cullen, Ralph Ellison, and Langston Hughes.
Following her first publication in a campus magazine, John
Redding Goes to Sea, in 1921 and her first publication
in the literary journal Opportunity, Drenched in
Light, in 1924, Hurston moved to New York at the height
of the Harlem Renaissance.
The editor of Opportunity, Charles
S. Johnson, had been told of the burgeoning writers talent
by Alain Locke, and she proved herself by winning a contest sponsored
by the journal in 1925 with her short story Spunk.
At about this time, Hurston began studying anthropology at Barnard
College under Franz Boas, work which eventually led to such texts as Mules
and Men. During this period, the anthropology student
continued to pursue her fiction career, re-publishing the short
story John Redding Goes to Sea in Opportunity
in 1926 and another story Muttsy later that year.
Her story Possum or Pig was published that same year
in Forum and another tale Sweat in the only
issue of Fire, a journal founded by Hurston, Langston
Hughes, and Wallace Thurman. In 1927, Hurston added drama
and essays to her repertoire, which led to an offer of patronage
by the so-called godmother of the Harlem Renaissance,
Mrs. Charlotte Osgood Mason. Before the publication of
Jonahs Gourd Vine in 1934, essays and short
stories appeared in such various journals as the Journal of
Negro History, World Tomorrow, Fast and Furious, Journal of American
Folklore, Story, and in Nancy Cunards anthology Negro.
In addition to plays by Hurston being performed on Broadway and
at Rollins College, she also founded a school of drama at Bethune-Cookman
College primarily concerned with African-American expression.
Needless to say, when J.B. Lippincott decided to print Jonahs
Gourd Vine, Hurston was already a well-established creative
force in the African-American and literary communities.
The literary audience at the time was also ripe for the acceptance
of Hurstons work. The best-seller in 1931 and 1932,
as well as winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1932, was Pearl S.
Bucks The Good Earth which paved the way for Hurstons
anthropological bent and her voice as Other. African-American
literature was also popular publishing fodder at the end of the
1920s and the beginning of the 1930s with Claude McKays
Home to Harlem in 1928, Wallace Thurmans The
Blacker the Berry in 1929, Langston Hughess Not
Without Laughter in 1930, and Countee Cullens One
Way to Heaven and Arna Bontempss God Sends Sunday
in 1931. In publishing Jonahs Gourd Vine,
Lippincott was responding to a demand from the reading audience
for work such as Hurstons.
The relative popularity of Jonahs
Gourd Vine led Lippincott to publish Hurstons anthropological
study Mules and Men the next year and
her most successful novel Their
Eyes Were Watching Godin 1937. Tell My Horse
followed in 1938 and Lippincott went on to publish Moses, Man of the Mountain
in 1939, Dust
Tracks on a Road: An Autobiographyin 1942, and Seraph
on the Suwaneein 1948. Seraph on the Suwanee
was the last new edition of Hurstons work to come out
until 1965, five years after Hurstons death and burial
in an unmarked grave. What happened to the princess of
the Harlem Renaissance, the Boas protégé, and the
Lippincott dynamo that led to her relatively anonymous death?
The tragedy of Zora Neale Hurston is as much informed
by her literary life as it is by her personal life. For
one thing, Hurston was always at odds with literary critics.
There was constant friction between Hurston and other, primarily
male, writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Alain Locke, who
once supported Hurston and encouraged her move to New York, eventually
denounced her work for its lack of social criticism. Others
believed Hurstons use of folklore and dialect helped to
support the prejudice and racism apparent in such white institutions
as the minstrel show. Hurston was also seen as too prosaic
in her approach to race relations by refusing to address them
in her fiction. Jeremy Cart observes, Throughout
her career she chose to attack the sobbing school of Negrohood
which saw all black action as a pathological response to white
oppression. Instead she tended to celebrate both African-American
folk culture (often buried as embarrassing by leading African-American
race leaders of the time) and individual achievement.
However, despite this controversy, Hurstons work was not
initially prevented from receiving widespread
After numerous accolades following
her Lippincott publications, such as a Guggenheim Fellowship,
an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Morgan State College,
the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations, a cover story
in the Saturday Review, and Howard Universitys Distinguished
Alumni Award, things started to sour for Hurston when her novel
Mrs. Doctor was rejected by Lippincott in 1945.
After living an isolated existence in New York until 1947, she
traveled to British Honduras, and then in 1948 was accused of
child molestation. Her final novel came out during this
time. She was eventually acquitted of the charges, but
the trial and media coverage left her depressed, suicidal, and
near the end of her publishing career as far as major works are
concerned. She moved to Florida where she worked as a maid
while printing intermittent essays in the Saturday Evening
Post, American Legion, and the Pittsburgh Courier.
Hurston managed to alienate her potential public further
in 1954, when she defended segregation, claiming African-Americans
were better off without the taint of a white education system.
From this point on, Hurstons employment and publication
histories reflect a series of failures. In 1959, she suffered
a stroke and died in 1960 of heart disease, at which time she
was buried in an unmarked grave in a segregated cemetery in Fort
Following the publication of Seraph on
the Suwanee in 1948, almost two decades transpired before
1965, during which none of Hurstons major works were printed
in editions of any form. Once the rage of the Harlem Renaissance
passed and Hurston fell out of popularity with the reading public
and the publishing world, the 1950s was not a climate that would
have sought to resurrect her work. In a decade where James
Joness From Here to Eternity, Herman Wouks
The Caine Mutiny and Marjorie Morningstar, Edwin
OConnors The Last Hurrah, and Boris Paternaks
Doctor Zhivago topped the best-seller lists, the unconventional
and controversial Hurston would have been hard-pressed to find
a reading audience in the shadow of these titanic tomes.
The appetite for epics by white male writers left no room for
the anthropological adventures of an African-American woman.
Many know the story of Hurstons
resurrection by Alice Walker in 1975 with her publication of
In Search of Zora Neale Hurston in Ms. magazine.
The popular author of such texts as The Color Purple came
across Hurstons work in folklore and subsequently her identity
while conducting research for a short story in 1970. In
1973, Walker went in search of Hurstons burial
site, marked the grave, and chronicled the experience in the
Ms. article. Since then, Hurston has slowly settled
within the canon and Their Eyes Were Watching God sold
over a million copies between 1990 and 1995. Though Walker
deserves much credit for Hurstons current popularity and
acceptance within the academy, it is possible that Walkers
discovery of Hurston is not as singular as suspected. The
publication history reflects a revitalized interest in Hurstons
work as early as five years before Walkers findings.
The 1960s witnessed a move away
from the popularity of white male epics and a move towards the
work of female writers and other voices from the margin.
The best-seller lists of the early 1960s featured works such
as Katherine Anne Porters Ship of Fools, Anne Morrow
Lindberghs Dearly Beloved, and Mary McCarthys
The Group. The sexual revolution also paved the
way for a resurgence of Hurstons honest portrayals of female
sexuality and independence. In 1966, the year after Their
Eyes Were Watching God saw its first re-publication since
the 1940s, the annual best-seller list boasted two novels rife
with sexual intrigue, Jacqueline Susanns The Valley
of the Dolls and Harold Robbinss The Adventurers.
In addition to increased moral and literary freedom, the
civil rights movement of the late 1960s also renewed an interest
in the work of African-American writers as well as validating
their voices. Zora Neale Hurston was slowly moving from
a publishing liability to a profit-making industry, however major
publishers were not willing to take a chance until the 1970s.
In the 1960s, only small publishers wished to re-publish Hurston.
Even the mainstream university presses did not yet consider her
work viable academic product. Fawcett Publications of Greenwich,
Connecticut published an edition of Their Eyes Were Watching
God in 1965, followed by an edition of Moses, Man of the
Mountain in 1967 by Chatham, New Jerseys Chatham Bookseller.
New Yorks Arno Press came out with an edition of Dust
Tracks on a Road in 1969. The only other publisher
to consider Hurston worthy of new editions in the 1960s was the
forward-thinking Negro Universities Press. They published
an edition of Mules and Men and another of Their Eyes
Were Watching God, both in 1969.
The 1970s saw a slow climb onto
the bandwagon from various sources. Lippincott caught on
to the renewed interest in its Harlem Renaissance money-maker
and came out with second editions of Dust Tracks on a Road
and Jonahs Gourd Vine in 1971. Harper
& Row stepped forward as the only other major publishing
house that saw Hurstons potential for profit in an edition
of Mules and Men in 1970. The smaller AMS Press
printed an edition and reprint of Seraph on the Suwanee, in
1971 and 1974 respectively. All this occurred before
Walkers article appeared in Ms. magazine.
Her position as a journalist most likely helped her reach a larger
popular audience, but Hurston was slowly being rediscovered previous
to Walkers search. Negro Universities Press issued
a reprint of Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1975, the
same year as Walkers article. Other university presses
also sensed Hurstons returning popularity and potential
for entry to the canon. Indiana University Press came out
with an edition of Mules and Men in 1978 and the University
of Illinois Press published an edition of Their Eyes Were
Watching God the same year. In 1979, the Feminist Press
published a collection of Hurstons essays, I
Love Myself When I Am Laughing ... and Then Again When I Am Looking
Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader.
It wasnt until the 1990s
that major publishing firms embraced the Hurston legacy and then
did so with a vengeance. The 1980s saw more of the trends
established in the 1970s. The University of Illinois Press
published editions of Dust Tracks on a Road and Moses,
Man of the Mountain in 1984 and then a reprint of Moses,
Man of the Mountain in 1985. An edition of Dust
Tracks on a Road was also issued by the London firm Virago
Press with an introduction by Dellita L. Martin in 1986.
Berkeleys Turtle Island Foundation for the Netzalhaulcoyotl
Historical Society was responsible for a majority of the editions
of Hurston that originated in the 1980s. The Sanctified
Church and Tell My Horse were published in 1981 and
a reprint of the paperback edition of Tell My Horse came
out in 1983. The Turtle Island Foundation was also responsible
for the first edition of Hurstons collected short stories
in 1985, Spunk: The Selected Stories. Redpath
Press of Minneapolis also published some of Hurstons stories
in their collection The Gilded Six-Bits: Love Is Fragile
in 1986. The 1980s witnessed the last decade of relative
obscurity that Hurstons work would experience.
1990 was the year that the mainstream
publishing world heartily welcomed Zora Neale Hurston.
Jonahs Gourd Vine, Mules
and Men, Tell My Horse, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Dust Tracks
on a Road, Moses, Man of the Mountain, and Seraph on the Suwanee
all received a Harper Perennial Library Edition in the first
two years of the decade. From that moment on, Hurstons
work has been perennially saved from being out of print at any
point in the near future. The University of Illinois Press
came out with a second edition of Their Eyes Were Watching
God in 1991, Virago Press reprinted Dust Tracks on a Road
in 1992, Chelsea House issued Janie Crawford, Their Eyes
Were Watching God/Zora Neale Hurston in 1993, and Harper
Collins released The
Complete Storiesin 1995. G.K. Hall also issued
an edition of Dust Tracks on a Road in 1997 and Rutgers
University Press published the collection Sweat in 1997.
1990s also saw two additional achievements for Hurston.
Her work entered other media, including Spunk: Three Tales, a libretto
released by the Theatre Communications Group in 1991, and a sound
recording of Mules and Men issued by Harper Audio in 1992.
In 1995, Hurston became the fourth African-American, the fifth
woman, and the first African-American woman to be published in
the Library of America series. Folklore, Memoirs, and
Other Writings and Novels and Stories have ensured
that Zora Neale Hurston will not soon be forgotten. In
fact, scholar Pamela Bordelon is responsible for the most recent
Hurston production which came out in 1999, Go
Gator and Muddy the Water, a compilation of the writing
Hurston did while working with the Federal Writers Project
in Florida in 1938.At some point in the near future,
Harper Colins plans to publish yet another Hurston text entitled
Hurstons history is
a prime example of how the winds of fortune, and more specifically,
the whimsy of politics and culture, can ensure an artists
longevity or rob that same artist of identity. Hurstons
plummet from triumph into despair and anonymity followed by her
sluggish resurrection when the cultural climate dictated is a
tragic tale, but not an uncommon one. Simply because Hurstons
rise and fall and rise again occurred over a relatively short
span of time, it can be used as an allegory of what has happened
to countless artists over countless years who attempted to speak
from the margins.