Zora Neale Hurston | January 2020
In 1925, Barnard student Zora Neale Hurston—the sole black student at the college—was living in New York, “desperately striving for a toe-hold on the world.” During this period, she began writing short works that captured the zeitgeist of African American life and transformed her into one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Nearly a century later, this singular talent is recognized as one of the most influential and revered American artists of the modern period.
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture. Brought together for the first time in one volume, they include eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satiric humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world. All are timeless classics that enrich our understanding and appreciation of this exceptional writer’s voice and her contributions to America’s literary traditions.
I knew I wanted to read this book the second I heard about it. The next second I thought, do I feel like it? 🤦🏾♀️ In my opinion, Hurston isn’t for the lazy reader. Her use of dialect, a course blend of southern/african/standard english shorthand, can often times turn reading her stories into a complicated translation session. 😳 Use of colloquiums and dialect can often lend to a story, but over use can be distracting in longer reads. It transports me to a time I’m happy to have not lived in and real cool on not visiting. Its a place where young black men only find freedom in death and young girls are trapped by the violence of men and valued based on their skin color as it compares to a paper-bag. Humph. (That last part sounds like I DO live in a Hurston story. 🙄😳🙃 Touché..) With that said, I decided life is short, I have other books to read and frankly, other shit to do. I listened to the audiobook. Fuck it. Pressure released. 🤣😂
I started this book at the end of March, when quarantine was new here in Georgia. Im a healthcare executive and we were certain this would take months, not 14 days. Like healthcare executives all over the country, at work, we were simultaneously attempting to navigate conflicting information from the CDC and the government, switch our business to a telemedicine platform, and deciding to close a large portion of our testing facility to keep employees safe, due to lack of PPE. I was stressed The Fuck Out. This book turned out to be a great distraction during that time.
The audio version, read by Aunjanue Ellis, is excellent. With Ellis navigating the language, as a reader, I got to sit back and absorb the stories with greater ease. These stories, like typical Hurston, have a love gone wrong theme. Familial or romantic; funny, sad, secretive, justice delivered promptly on some, but all love, set mostly in Harlem amongst blackness. Not just black people but, our music, our food, our religion and magic..our dress, our truths. The texture and tone is beautiful even if some of the content is hard to bare.
The Forward and Intro are overly long and dull, in my opinion, but if you know nothing of Hurston’s life, these are decent resources. Otherwise, skip it. These are followed by 20 or so short stories all of which I found entertaining. Highlights:
The first story is a dive off the edge into the deepend of the pool, right into strong dialect and Hurstons style of storytelling. “John Redding Goes To Sea” is about a young man yearning to leave home to explore the world but trapped by the overprotective women in his life. First his mother, than his wife. His one opportunity seemingly ends tragically, though allows him the journey he has always dreamed. Moral: Let people go. They’re going to leave you anyway.
“Spunk” is the story of a violent love triangle. Spunk is a strong, attractive, arrogant, fearless but violent, young man, openly dating another mans wife. The wife chooses Spunk, because strong, arrogant and fearless is attractive and she doesn’t believe her husband are these things. Until her husband confronts Spunk and ultimately, demonstrates true commitment. This story asks, and maybe answers, the old question: Who sacrifices more? The man who has a lot and gives a portion, or the man that has little and gives all?
“The Conversion of Sam” is a would be, feel good love story. Sam is a street kid that goes straight in order to attract a woman thats caught his eye. Eventually, she agrees to marry him, (Sam professing he wants to treat her ‘white’) and with the help of his manager, moves into a nice area and life. But, alas, this story is a parable about the perpetual crabs in a barrel and unfortunately, it doesn’t end well for Sam. Old demons attack in the form of envious friends and he is unable to hold them off. Keen lesson on looking back at something you’ve already walked past.
“The Country in the Woman”: I think this is probably my favorite. The story is about southern couple Caroline and Mitchell. They move north and Mitchell immediately adapts to his idea of big city life – smart clothes, manner of speaking, womanizing and standing around on corners talking about womanizing. Mitchells expectation is for Caroline to deal with it like the city girls do and not chase him all over town like a ‘country woman’. After a few run ins with his wife, he of course feels like he’s got things under control and decides to tell his buddies just that. Lets just say, Caroline ain’t with it. Moral: Don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash. 🤣😂
There are always lessons to be heard in and Zora Neale Hurston story, often, more than one! None of the stories in this book are any different. I really enjoyed these stories and I cant wait to add the hardcopy to my library. GoodBook 16 of 42