Spunk and Monkey Junk

Many readers know Zora Neale Hurston for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Alice Walker is responsible for rescuing an author from obscurity. Hurston was buried in a pauper’s grave. The only other writer who comes immediately to my mind who suffered a similar and indecent end was Dawn Powell, whose remains were rejected and relegated to a potter’s field. Hurston fell into obscurity after a false accusation of sexual molestation, taking menial work, although still publishing, then suffering a stroke, while Powell died slowly and painfully from colon cancer. At the time of their deaths, the novels of both women were out of print.

In early 2011, two scholars, Glenda R. Carpio and Werner Sollors, at Harvard University’s African American Studies Program, announced that, while working on the Library of America editions of Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston, they had discovered three lost Hurston short stories. I provide a link to the article and make what you will of the animosity between Hurston and Wright.

In honor of Zora Neale Hurston’s work, I provide links to two of those discovered short stories now online: “Spunk” and the satirical “Monkey Junk.” Numerous essays and commentaries now exist on Their Eyes Were Watching God. In light of Hurston’s political conservatism, I suggest readers explore the portrait of Tea Cake in her novel and reconsider the negative role that gossip among women plays in the novel. Hurston, a trained anthropologist, understood the social force of narrative, the horizontal violence gossip can play in gender distinctions and with group dynamics, within one race and between races.

If I have read them right I think that Wright and Alain Locke, in essence, criticized Hurston for depicting characters no better than minstrels seen in theatre and early talkies because Hurston employed Black English. Hurston, in turn, criticized Wright for going too far and not giving life-and-blood characters. It is a complicated matter and I’d rather leave you with passages that demonstrate the poetic power of her writing. If dialect seems alien, I ask that you read the passages out loud. Like Shakespeare, the printed word will make sense to the ear. All the quotes are from Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel she wrote in less than two months while conducting studies in Haiti.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”

“When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another.”

“She knew things that nobody had ever told her… She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one every sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making.”

“From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom…It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep.”

I do not think of Hurston as a woman, an African-American writer. I think of her as a controller of language, a creator of a reality, a conjurer of possibilities. In short, she is a poet. While it is necessary to frame a writer in social and historical context to better understand their gift and influence, it is an injustice to think of him or her in terms of race and gender.

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About gabrielswharf

gabriel’s wharf is a blog on the random thoughts and writings of author Gabriel Valjan. His stories continue to appear online and in print journals. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series.
This entry was posted in American Writers, Remembering Black History, Women Writers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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