Saturday, October 10, 2009

What would Zora do?

Did you know that October is GLBT History Month? Me neither, but it segways so nicely into Hallowe'en it seems obvious in retrospect. Quite by accident (thanks to The Bilerico Project) I learned that the website has been highlighting a personage a day & today was Zora Neale Hurston's day.

Zora Neale Hurston has actually come up in this blog before, because I have in the past been not miffed but mystified that the state of Florida choose to honor the author of Old Folks at Home with a cultural center etc. despite the fact he did not actually live here while completely missing Miss Hurston just down the road. & being ignored was just not her forte.

There are not many more dead-end places to grow up than rural Florida, even today. Being black in a black community is probably good for the residents but makes things harder with the neighboring towns, just ask Rosewood. Being a woman probably did not give her a leg up over the competition & being gay, well, outside of right-wing revival meetings, no one believes that anyone becomes gay to help a career in the arts. Finally there is that quality for which she has since become admired but was no doubt hard to take in person: her extremely short fuse.

By all accounts, Zora Neale Hurston was a my way or the highway kind of person. She was not afraid to throw a punch & I do not mean that euphemistically. She was not afraid to sacrifice a collaboration to her temper, just ask Langston Hughes.

Hurston also worked her fingers to the bone. The arguably best known African American writer at the middle of the 20th century died poor in a welfare home in Fort Pierce, Florida. While her friends were trying to raise funds for the funeral, her most famous book Their Eyes Were Watching God was making its way onto school reading lists across the country.

But I have said before I think looking at the end of a person's life, or any particular moment, is hardly the best measure of that life. Or maybe it is: if Zora Neale Hurston had never tried to beat the crap out of her new step-mother, she might have been welcome to stay in her father's house. If she had been an easy-going collaborator, she might have never made it to that moment to tell Langston Hughes where he could get off; on a broader scale, easy-going women do not do graduate work in anthropology no matter what color their skin is. Finally, if Zora Neale Hurston had not been willing to give us one of the masterpieces of American Literature for next to no compensation, it never would have existed at all.

So the answer to the question: what would Zora do? is succeed beyond wildest imaginings. Succeed in living her own life, succeed in capturing a way of life most authorities were trying to erase & those that were not were romanticizing it to the good & the bad for their own agendas. Succeed in documenting & then becoming history.

//true confession time: I have never read Their Eyes were Watching God. I have tried, my mother tells me I need to but I am defeated by the dialect. I am often defeated by written dialect; I had to get The Yiddish Policemen's Union on disc (the reader is Peter Reigert) & it is now in my personal top ten favorite books. While researching this I discovered that there is an audio version read by Ruby Dee. I will definitely try again.

1 comment:

  1. I said ZNH was gay; I should have said bi. There M******, does A** feel better now?