Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Mark of Zora

I posted a note on Facebook today about the birthday of Alice Walker, the novelist and essayist, certainly best known for The Color Purple.  A quick story: When the film came out in 1985, Joyce and I went up to see it in Shaker Square at the Colony Theater, which, at the time, had not yet been chopped up into mini-screening rooms.  The auditorium was full that night; Joyce and I were just about the only Caucasian faces present.  Anyway, remember the moment when Celie (Whoppi Goldberg) is shaving Albert (Danny Glover) with a straight razor out on the porch?  In the dark, Joyce and I heard all these disembodied voices crying out: Cut him!  Cut him!

Anyway, it was Alice Walker who went in search of Zora Neale Hurston's long-forgotten grave in the 1970s and settled on a spot in the Garden of Heavenly Rest Cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida.  In 1975, MS magazine published Walker's essay "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," the piece which greatly helped restore Hurston to her rightful place in American letters and culture.

Hurston's Fort Pierce home
In 2007-2008, Western Reserve Academy (where I was teaching) added to the English III curriculum Hurston's most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a book I had not read in a long time.  Compounding that ignorance: I knew virtually nothing about Hurston herself (1891-1960).  So in the summer of 2007, Joyce and I went on a Hurston Odyssey, traveling to Eatonville, FL, where she grew up, to Fort Pierce, where she lived her later years in virtual obscurity and where her grave was lost until Walker's hunt for it.  Her Fort Pierce home--now listed as a National Historic Landmark--is a very plain structure (see image).  When she died, those cleaning out her house were burning her papers when a passing policeman saw it, stopped, gathered up what remained, took them home, saved them for posterity.

When we went to the cemetery to see the grave, we couldn't find it--the cemetery.  So we asked a young man mowing his lawn where it was.  He looked at us with a mixture of alarm and disdain, then pointed about twenty feet to our left.  Duh.  It looked like just a big open field.  But once we realized where we were, we did not have trouble finding Hurston's grave.  It was well marked and maintained.
Back in Hudson, I read all of Hurston's published works and the best major biography of her--Valerie Boyd's 2003 Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston.

Zora's politics shifted to the right in her later years (one of the reasons she fell from favor during the Civil Rights era); The Saturday Evening Post had even featured her in a big story in 1951 (see cover).

But Zora was a talent--and quite a personality.  People who knew her reported that when Zora was in the room, you noticed no one else ...

So thanks today to Alice Walker, for finding Zora, for allowing us, once again, to hear her remarkable voice.

A couple of links: http://zoranealehurston.com/

And perhaps her best known essay: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma01/grand-jean/hurston/chapters/how.html

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the information. I look forward to reading her essay and have yet to read, Their Eyes Were Watching God. I'm glad we ran into each other today at Starbucks and were able to exchange blog addresses.