Zora Neale Hurston has been an author that I have wanted to read for the longest time but just never got around to, until now.
About Zora Neale Hurston:
Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist and author. In 1925, shortly before entering Barnard College, Hurston became one of the leaders of the literary renaissance happening in Harlem, producing the short-lived literary magazine Fire!! along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. This literary movement became the center of the Harlem Renaissance.
Hurston applied her Barnard ethnographic training to document African American folklore in her critically acclaimed book Mules and Men along with fiction Their Eyes Were Watching God and dance, assembling a folk-based performance group that recreated her Southern tableau, with one performance on Broadway.
Hurston was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel to Haiti and conduct research on conjure in 1937. Her work was significant because she was able to break into the secret societies and expose their use of drugs to create the Vodun trance, also a subject of study for fellow dancer/anthropologist Katherine Dunham who was then at the University of Chicago.
In 1954 Hurston was unable to sell her fiction but was assigned by the Pittsburgh Courier to cover the small-town murder trial of Ruby McCollum, the prosperous black wife of the local lottery racketeer, who had killed a racist white doctor.
Hurston also contributed to Woman in the Suwanee County Jail, a book by journalist and civil rights advocate William Bradford Huie. (Courtesy of GoodReads.)
Your can see from her fascinating bio, why I would want to read her works. Sweat did not disappoint.
Delia Jones did laundry for the white folks who lived across town. Every Saturday she hitched up her horse and wagon to deliver freshly washed laundry and picked up a new batch to be washed. On Sunday, after church, she would get a head start with the weeks worth of work by sorting and soaking the whites. She did the laundry because her deadbeat husband, Sykes spent all of the money he earned on himself and other women. He didn’t give her any toward household expenses.
Delia very proud of the fact that she was able to buy the house they lived in but Sykes did not make life easy. He hated the fact that she worked for white folks and some time undermined her work.
“He stepped roughly upon the whitest pile of things
, kicking them helter-skelter as he crossed the room. His wife gave a little scream of dismay, and quickly gathered them together again.”
One day Delia came home from delivering laundry, looking forward to some quiet time. Sikes was standing near the door with a box and told her to look inside. It contained a rattle snake and she screamed. Sykes insisted on keeping the reptile just to freak her out. One night..
“She lay awake, gazing upon the debris that cluttered their matrimonial trail. Not an image left standing along the way. Anything like flowers had long ago been drowned in the salty stream that had been pressed from her heart”
Things escalated from there and you can guess that the snake was not only highly symbolic in the story but pivitol as well. This story about domestic abuse and survival really packs a punch. The writing was strong and poetic, although it took me a bit to of effort to read the dialogue. For example,
“Dat niggah wouldn’t fetch nothin’ heah tuh save his rotten neck, but he kin run thew whut Ah brings quick enough. Now he done toted off nigh on tuh haff uh box uh matches. He done had dat ‘oman heah in mah house, too.”
Hurston paved the way for other strong female and African American authors. She didn’t hide behind social issues but brought them to the forefront. I look forward to reading more by Zora Neale Hurston. You can read Sweat
along with another story and some really interesting commentary.
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