For those of you familiar with my latest novel, Renaissance, you know that Zora makes a guest appearance so I am excited to dig into her newest release from Harper Collins next year. It sounds like a powerful one. Here’s what’s going on:
HarperCollins will launch a never-before-published book by Zora Neale Hurston. Barracoon is a non-fiction work of anthropology, rather than a novel.
As Daniel Johnsonwrites for the Black Youth Project:
Barracoon tells the story of the last known person to survive the transatlantic slave trade, a man named Cudjo Lewis. Many know that Hurston was an acclaimed fiction writer, but here it is her work as an anthropologist that shines. Hurston was able to sit down in the Black community of Plateau, Alabama, which was founded by Cudjo Lewis and other ex-slaves from the ship that brought them to America, and talk with the then 95-year-old Lewis about his life in 1931.
The book’s name comes from the type of ship on which Lewis was held and brought to America. In Barracoon, Hurston captures, largely in Lewis’s own words, the horrors of his passage to America, the brutality of his time as an enslaved person in America, and the story of his life after the Civil War.
This sounds like it’s going to be a powerful read.
I am honored to introduce to you our Grand Prize Winner of my first poetry contest!
First, a special thank you to Colleen and Lisa for helping me to put this together. With my schedule, I could not have done it without you two! Family, please go ahead and follow their blogs. You WON’T be disappointed!
Next, I would like to thank everyone who entered as well as those of you who shared this contest. It is not easy to “stand” up here and do something like this so thank you for your support.
Congratulations to Merril D. Smith for her poem “Zora Neale Hurston.”
Not only did it touch on our theme, but it embodied so much of Zora that I felt like if I didn’t know who she was before, I did now. Here’s what Colleen had to say:
“The author captured the essence of Zora and her strength to fight for the rights of African American women as if she was able to channel her bright spirit through the written word. Splendid imagery and descriptions. When I close my eyes, I can see Zora in all her glory!”
My favorite lines are:
“…her soul crawls out
from its hiding place
time and distance cannot shrink
her words…” – Colleen Chesebro
Whoop! Merril, here’s what you’ve won!
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (hardcover)
From When I was a Black Girl by Yecheilyah Ysrayl (paperback)
And Still, I Rise by Maya Angelou (paperback)
Your Poem on this Blog
Social Media Support
Please tell us a little bit about yourself:
MDS: Thank you so much, Yecheilyah Ysrayl, Colleen Chesebro, and Lisa W. Tetting! I am honored to have been selected as the Grand Prize Winner for this poetry contest.
My name is Merril D. Smith. I live in National Park, NJ, which is a small borough right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. I’m an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American history, but my blog is mostly a poetry blog. Poetry is my creative outlet, though it is something I’ve come to only within the past few years. Perhaps I needed some life experience and time to reflect, but now my muse says, “write poetry.”
Do you have any poetry collections out Merril?
MDS: I don’t have a poetry book out yet, but it’s coming! I’m currently finishing up two reference books on rape. My other books are available on Amazon and other sites.
Before we get to your poem, please tell us a little bit about it. What inspired this piece?
MDS: The theme of the poetry contest was the Harlem Renaissance. I chose to write about Zora Neale Hurston because I think she was a brilliant and fascinating woman. She lied about her age (saying she was younger than she was) so that she could finish high school. Then she went on to study anthropology with Franz Boas, and she chose to do fieldwork on Afro-American folklore. She was said to have made an entrance when she entered a party, and in the photos, I’ve seen of her, she’s often wearing a hat. She definitely had a way with words, so I used some of her lines within the poem. Though she won some acclaim in her life, she did not earn wealth, and she died in poverty. Alice Walker is credited with “rediscovering” Hurston and paid to have a grave stone placed on Hurston’s unmarked grave.
Once again Merril, thanks so much for participating in our contest and sharing your heart with us. Without further ado, everyone we give you:
Learn more about Renaissance in Colleen’s Feature of my soon to be release. As stated I am still away from the blog but I will be re-blogging any guest posts or interviews as they come in. Introduce Yourself will also continue to go out on Mondays so be sure to stay tuned for a chance to meet some amazing authors in our Indie community.
What known historically famous writers, like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, have taught me is that writing (far as fiction, / non-fiction, poetry, novelist type writing), is not about making money. Before you throw your stones at the computer screens listen carefully: You can surely make money, but writing is not about making money, if you can understand that. Though I write for a “living” I can honestly say, with my integrity intact, that I have written not one book and not one poem with the intent to make money. I don’t think any writer sits back and says, “Self, lets’ get this best seller on out the way shall we?” Personally, I write because I love doing it and I publish because I love sharing it. But, how did Langston Hughes help me to understand this?
For those of you who are not already familiar, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston are two of the biggest names in literary history. Just mention The Harlem Renaissance and their names are the first to come to mind. When you look into the lives that they lived however, you see two interesting facts: a). Both were very famous b). Both were very broke.
You wouldn’t know it from the looks of it. Not the way their names are plastered into history books. Not their quotes and faces and the people they’ve known. In fact, to the untrained eye one may come to think these people were rich. Yes, just like any “successful” Traditional or Self-Publisher always before the face of the people. The truth is that Langston Hughes had many side jobs throughout his career that made him money. This included many speaking engagements, teaching, traveling the world, and even working as a bus boy at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. Hughes attended Lincoln University but that was because he couldn’t raise the scholarship money to attend Howard. In addition, both Hughes and Zora worked closely under Charlotte Manson, their rich white patron (she was also a big racist but that’s another story) who paid them for the work they published (she also dictated the works they could / could not publish). They also worked closely, most especially Hughes, with Carl Van Vechten (infamous for his book “Nigger Heaven”) who got him lots of work.
I do not say this to discourage anyone from being an author. I say this to say that there is a passion and a drive to writing a book that has nothing to do with royalties and books sales. This is what the promotion and hard work is all about, or at least mine is. Writing and promoting books that people want to read. There were times where Langston Hughes could barely pay his rent and yet he still managed to know pretty much everyone there was to know during the Harlem Renaissance and the era to which he lived in general. This is a man who was surrounded by millionaires and billionaires on a regular, not because he necessarily made the same kind of money but because of the way that his work changed people who were drawn to his message. This is what it’s all about: Changing lives. This is also why the Traditional-Indie argument is so stupid right now. It doesn’t matter how you publish the book and whether or not you’re “making it rain”. What matters is whether or not your book has a voice. If it does, then the people will gather to hear you sing.
Jessie Redmon Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in Camden County in New Jersey, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she was likely the sole African American in her class. Because Bryn Mawr College was reluctant to accept its first black student, they instead chose to help Fauset to get a scholarship to attend Cornell University. Fauset did well at Cornell and after graduating in 1905, Fauset’s race kept her from being hired as a teacher in Philadelphia. Instead, she taught in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
During the Harlem Renaissance, two papers were in circulation among black people that helped to greatly influence the movement: The Crisis, headed by W.E.B. Dubois, and The Opportunity, headed by Charles S. Johnson. While there seemed to be quite a competition from the two, stemming from the position of the two men, the writers also reflected the same. While Zora Neale Hurston wrote for The Opportunity, Fauset wrote for The Crisis and eventually became editor in 1919.
While researching and studying for Stella Book #2, which launches tomorrow and deals with the subject of passing, I noticed that Fauset wrote a lot about passing; all of Fauset’s novels were the stories of black middle class passing for white. Her first novel “There is Confusion” is the love story of a wealthy black woman who falls in love with a medical student and dreams of being a dancer but is held back because of her race. Published in 1923, her second novel “Plum Bun” is about a black woman who desires to be an artist; and decides to do so by passing as white and rejecting her family and friends. The story ends with her embracing her race and finding true love with a black man. In 1931 she published her third novel “Chinaberry Tree”. Her last novel “Comedy”, a study of the tension between drama and narration, was published in 1933. Inspired by a Greek tragedy, it is another story studying the dynamics of passing by giving voice to a black woman who can be seen as white. She passes for white in her everyday life and convinces her oldest children to do the same. The youngest child was too dark to pass which eventually leads him to commit suicide.
My entry for Silver Threading’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday this week is from Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road:
“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.”
– Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
I love using imagery and symbolism with my writing so this quote is very inspiring to me. I love the way she lends us a pictorial version of the words. The up close and personal relationship with grief contrasted against the achievement of ones dreams by having climbed the highest mountain, and the added serenity of being wrapped in rainbows. And while there is music, there is still a pending fight to endure, so she balances the music with a weapon of war.