Sunday, March 01, 2020

Zora Neale Hurston

During the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston was one of the outstanding authors -- now remembered for several of her novels. She also wrote many stories, which were published in obscure and hard-to-locate little magazines and newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s. Some determined editors have recently collected a number of these stories in this book: Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.
Published January, 2020.
I found much to like in these stories of ordinary people in Harlem and in Neale's native state, Florida.  Quite a few of her characters began life in the rural south, but left to settle in the big city. The stories usually highlight some particular characteristic of one or two characters, often portraying the tensions within couples. I enjoyed Neale's sense of irony where characters would get even with one another, or would make some mistake in a relationship.

Of course I watched for especially interesting descriptions of what these characters cooked and ate. Here are some quotes:
"Missie May fanned around in the kitchen. A fresh red and white checked cloth on the table. Big pitcher of buttermilk beaded with pale drops of butter from the churn. Hot fried mullet, crackling bread, ham hock atop a mound of string beans and new potatoes, and perched on the window-sill a pone of spicy potato pudding." Zora Neale Hurston, "The Gilded Six-Bits" in Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, Kindle Locations 3133-3135).
"On Saturday he went to Orlando to make his market. It had been a long time since he had done that. Meat and lard, meal and flour, soap and starch. Cans of corn and tomatoes. All the staples. He fooled around town for awhile and bought bananas and apples. Way after while he went around to the candy store." ("The Gilded Six-Bits," Kindle Locations 3281-3283).  
"Stella was a gracious hostess, and while her husband proudly showed the envious 'Blue-front' around, put supper on the table, and invited him to stay. She had veal-cutlet and fried sweet potato, tea and hot biscuit." ("The Conversion of Sam," Kindle Locations 960-962). 
"Jim was fat, black, and indolent; and his eating house reflected the character of its owner. In his fly-specked shop-window were displayed fish, pigs’ feet and ears, and chitterlings that one more than half suspected had had the same attention." ("The Conversion of Sam" Kindle Locations 770-772).  
The stories are revealing about life in another time and place that sometimes seems quite close to the present, sometimes very long ago. Especially interesting are the stories "set in urban environments that reflect the tumult of the Great Migration. More than two million African Americans left the largely rural South between 1910 and 1940 for the industrialized cities of the North." (Introduction by Genevieve West, Kindle Locations 139-140).

Because many of these were Hurston's very early efforts in writing fiction, I would say that the quality of the stories is a little uneven. Her transcription of the dialect or accents of the characters is sometimes challenging to read.  Overall, it's worth reading this new collection along with the introductory material by several modern scholars.

This review is written for maefood dot blogspot dot com, © 2020 mae sander.


A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I have never heard of this author. I will have to check her out. Thanks

Marg said...

It's interesting to get glimpses into characters through what is written about food in a book.