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Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays

Jean Lee Cole
Charles Mitchell
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Zora Neale Hurston
    Book Description:

    Though she died penniless and forgotten, Zora Neale Hurston is now recognized as a major figure in African American literature. Best known for her 1937 novelTheir Eyes Were Watching God,she also published numerous short stories and essays, three other novels, and two books on black folklore.

    Even avid readers of Hurston's prose, however, may be surprised to know that she was also a serious and ambitious playwright throughout her career. Although several of her plays were produced during her lifetime-and some to public acclaim-they have languished in obscurity for years. Even now, most critics and historians gloss over these texts, treating them as supplementary material for understanding her novels. Yet, Hurston's dramatic works stand on their own merits and independently of her fiction.

    Now, eleven of these forgotten dramatic writings are being published together for the first time in this carefully edited and annotated volume. Filled with lively characters, vibrant images of rural and city life, biblical and folk tales, voodoo, and, most importantly, the blues, readers will discover a "realNegro theater" that embraces all the richness of black life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4512-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    Jean Lee Cole and Charles Mitchell
    (pp. XI-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XXXII)

    Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Playsmarks the first time that the extant dramatic writings of Zora Neale Hurston have ever been collected in a single volume. This feat would have been impossible if not for the work of librarians at the Library of Congress. In 1997, they found over a dozen plays and sketches stored in various locations throughout their vast holdings and rescued them from obscurity by sharing them in public monthly readings. Add to this treasure trove other library holdings and pieces from several ephemeral publications and we end up with a clear picture of Hurston’s theatrical output...

    (pp. XXXIII-XXXIV)
  7. MEET THE MAMMA (1925)
    (pp. 1-32)

    Meet the Mammais perhaps most significant for the contrast it provides to Hurston’s later works. In Baltimore, Hurston lived several blocks from the city’s theatrical district, and opportunities to see variety entertainment were plentiful in Washington and New York. This, her first dramatic work, imitates the musical comedies, vaudeville, and reviews that dominated the stage during the 1920s.

    The play’s plot is paper-thin and subject to the limitations of the form of the musical review; as one of the members of the chorus states in act 2, scene 3, “that’s all a musical comedy is—Chorus.” Yet the piece’s...

  8. COLOR STRUCK (1926)
    (pp. 33-50)

    Color Struck, along with the following play,Spears, constitute Hurston’s calling card to the Harlem theater world. The two plays, along with the short stories “Spunk” and “Black Death,” all won prizes in the firstOpportunityliterary contest organized by Charles S. Johnson in 1925. Judged by a panel of white and black writers, including Fannie Hurst, Eugene O’Neill, Alain Locke, and James Weldon Johnson, Hurston literally stole the show: she not only won the second place award in drama forColor Struck, but also took second place in fiction for “Spunk” as well as honorable mentions forSpearsand...

  9. SPEARS (1926)
    (pp. 51-62)

    Spears, a short two-act play, won an honorable mention in the firstOpportunityliterary contest organized by Charles S. Johnson in 1925, and was later published inX-Ray, the magazine of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, in December 1926. It was never produced.

    The play is notable for the contrast it provides withColor Struck, in terms of its setting, themes, and rendering of dialogue. Setting the play in an imaginary African kingdom, Hurston exploits the then-faddish interest in “primitive” cultures and peoples that foreshadowed, to a certain degree, her eventual relationship with Charlotte Osgood Mason, a champion of primitivism...

  10. THE FIRST ONE (1927)
    (pp. 63-74)

    This play retells the biblical story of Ham, which was frequently used by slaveowners in the antebellum period to explain the origin of the black race as a people destined to servitude. In Genesis 9, Noah, with his sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth, and their respective wives, escape the great flood. One night Noah becomes drunk; Ham sees him in his nakedness and tells his brothers. Shem and Japheth cover him, averting their eyes, and when Noah awakens, he curses Ham’s son Canaan, saying that he would be a “servant of servants… unto his brethren.” After Emancipation, African American divines...

  11. COLD KEENER (1930)
    (pp. 75-130)

    Cold Keenerwas copyrighted in October 1930, just months before the failure ofFast and Furiousand during the period when Hurston was writing sketches for the eventually abortedJungle Scandals. The sketches collected here almost certainly comprise the material she had written forJungle Scandals. Whether Hurston was to be the sole author ofJungle Scandalsis unknown; however, this collection certainly contains enough material for a full evening. Part fantasy, part slice-of-life, the sketches amount to a celebration of a black culture filled with music, ribald humor, and an unapologetic impulse to profane the sacred.

    The play’s title...

  12. DE TURKEY AND DE LAW (1930)
    (pp. 131-190)
    Langston Hughes

    De Turkey and De Lawis essentially a dramatization of Hurston’s short story, “The Bone of Contention” (unpublished during Hurston’s lifetime), which centers on an altercation between Dave Carter, “the local Nimrod,” and Jim Weston, the town bully. In the story, Dave shoots a turkey, which Jim then claims as his own. As they struggle over the carcass, Jim hits Dave with the hock-bone of a mule and knocks him unconscious. A few days later, a makeshift trial for assault degenerates into a battle between the Methodist and Baptist congregations of the town and a comical debate over whether a...

    (pp. 191-200)
    Rowena Woodham Jelliffe

    The figure of the folk preacher stands tall in Hurston’s work. Her own father was an itinerant Baptist minister, and growing up in Eatonville, as we see inDe Turkey and De Law, she was surrounded by churchgoers of both the Baptist and Methodist faiths. The language of the folk sermon, exhortatory, eloquent, and colloquial by turns, clearly captivated Hurston, and she not only included many preachers as characters in her work (most notably, John Pearson, based on her father, the central character inJonah’s Gourd Vine), but incorporated the rhythms and rhetorical patterns of folk preaching throughout her writing....

    (pp. 201-220)

    The following plays,Woofing, Lawing and Jawing, Forty Yards, andPoker!, all appeared in some form in an all-black review entitledFast and Furious. The show premiered on September 15, 1931, at the New Yorker Theatre and ran for seven performances—until the box office ran dry. Hurston was not surprised at either the critical drubbing the production received or its subsequent failure to catch on. She put the blame squarely on the shoulders of producer and director Forbes Robinson, who, Hurston wrote in a September 1931 letter to her patron, Charlotte Osgood Mason, allowed composer/performer Rosamond Johnson to select...

  15. THE FIERY CHARIOT (1932)
    (pp. 221-226)

    Hurston included this slight bit of comedy, which she described as an “Original Negro Folk Tale,” inFrom Sun to Sun, the revised version ofThe Great Day(1932), the concert program that received widespread critical notice. It received a single performance at the New School for Social Research in New York on Tuesday, March 29, 1932.

    According to biographer Valerie Boyd, Hurston was compelled to write the sketch in order to flesh outFrom Sun to Sun, which had to excise significant portions ofThe Great Daydue to the agreement she had made with Charlotte Osgood Mason in...

  16. SPUNK (1935)
    (pp. 227-268)

    Although it was never produced,Spunkis arguably Hurston’s most crafted play, next toPolk County(1944). It also functions as a bridge between the earliest successes of Hurston’s career and her culminating achievement,Their Eyes Were Watching God(1937). The play began as the short story of the same title, which won Hurston second prize in the inaugural 1925Opportunityliterary contest as well as attracting the notice of the Harlem intelligentsia. The story was later published in the June 1925 issue ofOpportunity, and Alain Locke included it in the same year in his seminal anthology,The New...

  17. POLK COUNTY (1944)
    (pp. 269-362)
    Dorothy Waring

    Hurston spent several months at the Everglades Cypress Lumber Company in Loughman, Florida, in 1928, on a trip financed by Charlotte Osgood Mason. While there, she collected material that formed the basis of this play: the characters Big Sweet and Dicey Long were closely based on women she met in the lumber camp, and Leafy Lee is a fictionalized version of Hurston herself. Even before she wrotePolk County, however, the material had surfaced in many of her other works, includingDe Turkey and De Law(1930) andThe Mule-Bone(1931),Spunk(1935), andTheir Eyes Were Watching God(1937)....

  18. Appendix: Programs from The Great Day (1932), From Sun to Sun (1932), and All de Live Long Day (1934)
    (pp. 363-372)
    (pp. 373-386)
    (pp. 387-389)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 390-390)