Monday, August 29, 2016

What would Zora Neale Hurston think of Twitter?

Friday, August 26, 2016

And the winner is...

Chuck Korr!  Congratulations to you, Chuck, and to all our excellent summer readers!

Some comments from our final (Friday) discussion:

  • Hurston arrests me with her writing.
  • The discussion on the store porch about Nature vs. Caution (nurture?) is interesting and plays out throughout the story.
  • In order for Tea Cake to get into the same jealous, suspicious frame of mind as Joe, he had to get rabies,
  • Why can't we have a Leonardo DiCaprio Titanic ending instead of a rabies ending?
  • The trial scene is another manifestation of the light vs. dark issue.  The white women spectators sympathize with the light-skinned Janie while the darker-skinned friends of Tea Cake want to condemn Janie.
  • Janie's shooting Tea Cake is an instance of her having self-agency.
  • The title - Janie (and others in the novel?) are trying to figure out who God wants them to be.  Or is it because God judges everyone that they are all watching Him?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Our grand prize for this year's program.

Thursday discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Twelve (now thirteen) participants with a WIDE variety of opinions at the Thursday discussion.
  • Were Tea Cake and Janie in "love"? Opinions differ today.
  • Self confidence falls in the face of abuse.
  • Jody professed his love but ended up focused only on himself.
  • Love, or relationships, with different people IS different.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday night discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God with Dr. Rafia Zafar

Discussion of Janie's marriages. Married to Logan in Nanny's parlor (page 191 LOA edition). With Jody, on page 200 (LOA), "Green Cove Springs", he told the driver. So they were married there. . . " But was Logan still alive at this point? Was Janie a bigamist?
If Logan had died by the time Jody had passed, then Janie was legally married to Tea Cake.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, the title. Some things we thought about the title:

  • Janie was not a religious person.
  • page 305 (Library of America edition), As the hurricane came, "They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."
  • Does Janie see hypocrisy in religion?
  • Jody does not want her to attend church, but does she have a need for God? 
  • In Jonah's Gourd Vine, John was religious, but was he moral?
  • Hurston had strong feelings about beliefs of others, she did believe in a higher spirit, as referenced in her autobiographical Mules and Men.

  • Mrs Turner's comments in chapter 16, why did Hurston have Janie allow the comments to pass with no reaction?
  • Tea Cake's reaction to Mrs. Turner
  • A comparison to the Edward Jones book (which Dr. Zafar is teaching this year) The Known World.
  • How can we have inequality in death? During and after the hurricane all are equal. All of our petty struggles are swept away.
  • Is the hurricane just a hurricane? What does Hurston want us to pay attention to? 
  • Only a catastrophic event can separate Tea Cake and Janie.
  • Tea Cake is killed through the skills that Janie learns from him.
Zora Neale Hurston's use of domestic violence was discussed.
Janie's determination not to let Tea-Cake kill her, and her decision to be alone and her ability to be happy that way were key.
Logan and Jody and their attitudes were compared to characters in early Spike Lee films and to Marie Antoinette.
Janie's sexual awakening as presented symbolically with the blossoming pear tree and the bees was discussed as a particularly beautiful part of the book.
Participants talking about domestic violence in Hurston's work, and interesting comparisons to other characters in other works.

Dr Zafar (left) leading the discussion. Local author, David Linzee (right) pondering the discussion.

About 30-35 people came out for the first August discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God.
A great big thank you to Dr. Rafia Zafar, from Washington University, for leading the discussion. And a big thank you to The Library of America for all their help with our program this year.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Their Eyes and Symbols

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a brief novel that is loaded with meaning.  A search in our magazine article database, EBSCO Host, for "Their Eyes Were Watching God," and "symbol*" (symbols, symbolism, etc.), yields articles that discuss many elements of the novel and their meanings:

  • Janie's hair
  • mules
  • the hurricane
  • pear tree
  • pollen (and bees)
  • rabies

We're interested in what these (and other) things mean to you.  Comment here and we'll discuss next week!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Movie Version

This Thursday, August 18 at 6:30 pm in the library auditorium, don't miss our screening of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, which aired in 2005 on ABC.  It was produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions and stars Halle Berry, Ruby Dee, Michael Ealy and Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

The production was nominated for numerous awards, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Berry, and won a Best Actor Black Reel Award for Michael Ealy.

Reviewers frequently commented that the film didn't do Hurston justice, particularly in the area of the author's rich use of language. Everyone seems to agree, however, that Berry is a near-perfect rendering of Janie.  Watch with us this Thursday and let us know what you think.

Here are a few of the reviews:

The New York Times' Virginia Heffernan says, "...Ms. Winfrey has always had an uncanny way of getting people to do their homework. And like it."

And Variety magazine says the film "...crucially lacks the tough lyricism and cohesive vision of Hurston's prose."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Afternoon discussion

17 participants for Friday's discussion.

Moses, Man of the Mountain is actually longer than Jonah's Gourd Vine but read, to some participants, as a shorter book. Others found it enjoyable, but long.

Much of what happens in Moses, Man of the Mountain,

Did Hurston take some of his ideas from Moses and Monotheism by Freud? Moses and Monotheism was first published in 1939, had Hurston read or heard any of the work before writing Moses, Man of the Mountain? One participant pointed out that Hurston had studied with Franz Boas, who was a colleague (friend??) of Sigmund Freud.
Was Hurston influenced by Marxism, attributing some of God's work to man?
Mentu as Merlin, the book in the river as the sword in the stone was mentioned.
Moses introduces the Hebrews to their God, unlike in Exodus and Genesis.
Was Hurston making a statement about having to wait for the next generation for things to be better? To whom is she talking, to whom is she referring?

The language shift that Moses shows puzzled some of us.

  • Moses switching between Egyptian, Minian, and Hebrew. Speaking Hebrew, but switching to Egyptian when he got excited.
  • Aaron and Miriam different in Exodus.
A really good discussion, lots of talk. Friday group rocks.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thursday discussion

13 participants
How would you compare Moses, Man of the Mountain to Jonah's Gourd Vine?

  • Easier to read Moses.
  • Character of Moses was a better person than Jonah.
Why did so many of the Hebrews in Moses want to go back?
  • People not remembering the bad parts.
  • Hurston hammering on human ingratitude, characters were remembering a past that wasn't there.
  • Freedom presents a different kind of hardship.
Parallels to slavery in America, Harriet Tubman known as Moses. Groups of freed people in Kansas known as "Exodusters."

Differences between Hurston and Exodus:
  • Moses chooses not to cross Jordan in Hurston's account.
  • Aaron and Miriam are Moses's siblings (more definitively) in Exodus.
  • Flies, as one of the plagues, different in the biblical account.
  • Plagues in Moses, Man of the Mountain:
    • Lice
    • Hail
    • Water into blood
    • Snakes
    • Frogs
    • Darkness
  • Egyptian Gods could do some of the plagues, blood, frogs and snakes. One funny moment in the book was when the priests could not make the frogs going away.
Parallels to modern politics, parallels to the 1930s
  • There is a Zepho (or a Zephon) in the bible, but not a Zeppo. Is the comic character in Hurston's book based on Zeppo Marx?
Miriam in Hurston:
  • Did Hurston think of women in a negative way or was she making a humorous comment about her times and how women were perceived?
  • The root of the word Miriam is the same as that for myrrh, meaning "bitter"
  • Death of Miriam and Aaron: Miriam came to understand Moses and his relationship to God, where Aaron never did and their deaths reflect this.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wednesday night discussion in July

We have about 35 participants tonight. We're having a good discussion about freedom and other themes from the book.

  • The line on page 590 is telling, where Moses thinks, "He had found out that no man may make another free. Freedom was something internal."
  • Some participants felt that Aaron and Miriam were more sympathetic characters others did.
    • Of them, if being a leader means that you get the trappings of leadership, shouldn't Miriam and Aaron have been given those trappings, or isn't it unreasonable to condemn them for wanting these trappings?
  • Wilderness versus desert: Moses appreciates the wilderness, it brings him closer to God. The desert is punishment.
  • The hero has to go through times of uncertainty, the 
  • What is the role of a prophet?:
    • Incentivize us to think, require you to use the most precious thing you have, your brain.
    • Someone giving you a blueprint to find God.
    • A prophet is one who foretells.
    • Miriam grew up with the Egyptian Gods and couldn't know the Hebrew God, couldn't  have prophecies for new god. 
  • Who was Hurston's intended audience? Did she intend Moses for an African-American audience?
    • Hurston was a preacher's kid
    • Hurston wrote this in 1939, on the eve of World War II
  • History repeats itself as a theme.
  • What did the image of crossing over, crossing water, which are repeated frequently in Moses, Man of the Mountain, and in Jonah's Gourd Vine, mean to Hurston?
    • You bring your baggage with you when you cross over and change.
    • The characters of Jonah and Moses changed in different ways in these two books. 
    • Many of the characters in Moses regret the change to freedom and long for a past where things were certain, even if they were awful.
  • Was Hurston well-received in the African-American community with the idea of many characters espousing a return to slavery?
    • Looking at the group dynamics
    • Did Hurston have a lot of detractors in the African-American community because of her characters and the way she presents Moses
  • Miriam and Aaron believe they were chosen by God, and were disappointed to find that Moses had chosen them.
    • Why did Hurston choose to say of Miriam that she had never been loved by a man? Why was this the label that Hurston chose?
  • How did Mentu and Jethro influence Moses?
    • Mentu and Jethro both poured knowledge into Moses
    • Both cared about Moses
    • Both saw him as a leader, as a "chosen one."
    Moses learned from the priests, "tricks," "hoodoo"? The Egyptian priests did not like having Moses around, fearing  that they would lose power if he learned their tricks.

We are just starting our July discussion of Zora Neale Hurston's

Moses, Man of the Mountain 
 Zora's 1939 novel, based on the Book of Exodus, had some group members grateful for the lack of dialect, but others missed the language of Jonah's Gourd Vine.

Was Moses the actual brother of Aaron, or was he as Hurston proposes, an Egyptian around whom the "adoption" story was added? Opinions differ both in our group and among scholars.

The plagues in Hurston's account mirror those in Exodus: the blood, frogs, snakes, locusts, flies, darkness, and the deaths of the children.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Many, Many Hats of Zora Neale Hurston

As we know from our reading guide, Zora Neale Hurston was well known for her "audacious hats."

Indeed, a Google image search for "Zora Neale Hurston hat" turns up not only lots of images of the author and her hats, but also plenty of other people wearing impressive chapeaus. (Also among the results? A Zora Neale Hurston finger puppet.)

Want to see more photos of authors in audacious hats? Check out this Flavorwire gallery of "30 Photos of Famous Authors in Epic Hats. Because Why Not?" Why not indeed! Zora's in there; do you think she'd approve of the other authors' toppers?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Fiction Inspired by the Story of Moses

The story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt has such deep cultural roots that many of us have read other novels with Moses-like characters or themes.  Two came to my mind right away:

Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfuz, in which an Egyptian family mirrors the spiritual history of humankind as a feudal lord disowns one son for diabolical pride and puts another son to the ultimate test.

The Lawgiver by Herman Wouk -  a tale told through correspondence, articles, and text messages traces the efforts of a group of movie makers, including a brilliant young writer-director who has rejected her rabbinical father's strict upbringing, to create a movie about the life of Moses.

What about you?  Can you add to this list?  Please comment to this post with any ideas!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Getting the Blues at U City Public Library

On Thursday, June 23, U City Library's auditorium was packed with summer readers of all ages to hear the gorgeous sounds of the Marquise Knox Band, an event coordinated with the assistance of National Blues Museum.   If you missed it, take a look at the clip below:

Zora Neale Hurston's work in collecting folk materials from Florida and the Caribbean was crucially important to our knowledge of blues today.  Take a look at: Blues Music from the Florida Folklife Collection - you can request a free CD or music download!

And this month we've got plenty of Blues reading material on display by the reference desk.  Stop by and browse.

Monday, June 27, 2016

On Exhibit at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum

Textile Art integrating pictures representing the history of Eatonville on display now at the Zora:

 We stopped by the Eatonville Town Hall, the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts (they host a Zora Neale Hurston Festival every January), and the Eatonville Branch of the Orange County Public Library.

We brought copies of Jonah's Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God and the book Hurston co-wrote with Langston Hughes, Mule Bone.

We're hoping that the staff at the Eatonville Branch Library and the staff at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts will blog about Zora Neale Hurston this summer.

We finished up last week with two more great discussions on Thursday and Friday.  Here are some highlights:

  • John is two different characters - almost a split personality
  • John became a lot like his stepfather
  • John makes a clear distinction between love and sex
  • Discussion about hoodoo - does Hurston actually believe in its power?  Most readers Friday believe she does.
  • Lucy knew that she loved John too much - told Isis: "Don't love anybody as much as you love yourself."
  • Lucy is powerful!
  • Metaphor of crabs in a pot pulling one another down - a reader Friday shared an Australian expression: tall poppy syndrome - if you get too tall, you'll get mowed down - speaks to possible universality of people within a group keeping one another down
  • Some Friday readers found story archetypal - classic good and evil struggle
  • Hurston's style of briefly summarizing long historical periods is like the literary version of a slide show
  • John's final sermon, according to notes on p. 1038, was based on an actual sermon by C.C. Lovelace
  • Sally's sending John back to Eatonville - a symbol of God testing John
  • Hurston has really caught the authentic voice - it's important to hear the dialogue
  • Glossary is not complete enough
  • Hurston is also skilled at capturing sound effects
  • Some readers were intrigued by John and others playing hide and seek at an older age
  • Trains are important to Hurston - her autobiography is Dust Tracks on a Road

Friday, June 24, 2016

Jonah's Gourd Vine

Amy Crittenden.  A question arose about the relationship with Amy & Alf.  Was Amy raped?
During slavery and post slavery days rape is always a possibility.  Amy doesn't have harsh words or
negative implications toward Alf.  Amy also is confident when telling John to mention her Name when asking for work.  So, what if Alf really liked Amy at one time?  What if Alf had true affections
toward Amy at one time?
Alf makes a comment of wondering why Amy married Ned and became a sharecropper?  I believe
Alf saw some value in Amy, maybe intelligence, beauty, loyalty?  Alf thought Amy's life could have been better if she had stayed on the better side of the creek.  Some white men of that day really had affection for the black women.  Sally Hemming is just one documented example.  What is Alf actually felt some betrayal when Amy left and married Ned?  If any of these thoughts are true that may explain Alf's willingness to help John.  Alf could have had No sense of obligation toward John but he does.  Maybe Alf's feelings for Amy lends itself to care for John.  Just maybe?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Back in the Big-group discussion

Other questions coming our of the small group:
Why did Amy stay with Ned, even after John would have been able to help?
Is this the same dynamic we see today in domestic violence?
How is John's abuse of Lucy and (especially) Hattie related to Ned's treatment of Amy?
What was the untold story of Alf Pearson and Amy? We're assuming that John is their child, was it rape? Was Amy's story one of constant abuse? 

Small Group Discussion on the First night

Questions from the groups:
1. What explains the differences between the two groups living on the opposite side of the creek? Resonated with the "other side of the tracks", "Delmar divide", and perceptions of East St. Louis versus public perceptions of St. Louis.
2. What was the timeline of the book? Dr. Langley's answer: Amy Crittenden was a young girl in 1865 when slavery ended. Ned was older. So, the book begins about around 1893 (my guess) based on John's age. The book runs through the First World War.
3. How relevant is this to contemporary audiences?-Answer: Many people discussing the book felt that many of the points raised in the book were still very relevant, from implicit bias based on skin color. Parallels modern issues.
Gender politics and sexuality-even though John was a serial philanderer, the women he slept with were considered "sluts' or worse. There's a definite double-standard.

Our First Zora discussion!

There was a big crowd on hand for the first discussion of Zora Neale Hurston's Jonah's Gourd Vine. Thanks to Dr. April Langley, Associate Professor at Mizzou, for moderating the discussion! 

Sacred Harp Singing

In Chapter 2 of Jonah's Gourd Vine, Charlie describes Lucy Potts singing at church: "...she trebles right 'long wid dem grown women and kin sing all de notes--de square ones, de round ones, de triangles."

What may sound like a flowery way of describing music is actually referring to a specific type of singing and musical notation: Sacred Harp singing, also called shape-note singing, a style that gained popularity in the 1800s in the South. Unlike the eight-note "do-re-mi" style we all learned from The Sound of Music, Sacred Harp singing uses an older four-note English system, with different tones given different shapes in the songbooks:

Sacred Harp singing has a couple of other distinctive qualities, which are much more noticeable when you experience it live: first, the singers sit facing each other in a hollow square, with each side representing a specific vocal range (treble, alto, tenor, and bass); and second, it's loud. Really loud. Sacred Harp singing has no volume indicators that occur in more modern music, so singers tend to just belt it out. Watch the video below for an example of modern Sacred Harp singers:

Interested in checking out Sacred Harp singing in person? The St. Louis Shape Note Singers meet several times a month, often in a home in University City. Check out their website at and remember to sing loud!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We had a terrific presentation by acclaimed storyteller Bobby Norfolk last Thursday night!  His program on the Harlem Renaissance featured tales, songs, and poems by Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and James Weldon Johnson, among others.

The highlight of the evening was Bobby's performance of the tale Uncle Monday, which was collected by Zora Neale Hurston during her years working for the WPA on the Florida Writer's Project.  The text version of the folk tale, which is a rollicking story of alligators, hoodoo, and revenge, can be found in Go Gator and Muddy the Watercurrently on display by the reference desk.

The story of Hurston's research on Florida folkways for the WPA is fascinating in its own right; visit the Library of Congress or Florida Memory and read on!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

African American Expressions in Folk Art

Next Saturday, June 25 at 10:30am, the Saint Louis Art Museum will host a lecture that might be of interest to our Zora readers - African American Expressions in Folk Art.  This lecture, by art historian Alvia J. Wardlaw, accompanies the museum's exhibit, Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum.

Alvia J. Wardlaw is a curator of two groundbreaking exhibitions, the Quilts of Gee's Bend and Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial.

This lecture takes place in the Farrell Auditorium at SLAM.  It is free to attend, but advanced tickets are recommended.

Can't attend this lecture but want to learn more about the arts of the African American South or the Gee's Bend Quiltmakers?  Check out some great art and great information at the Souls Grown Deep Foundation - dedicated to documenting, researching, preserving, and exhibiting the work of self-taught African American artists of the American South.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Zora as inspiration to Alice Walker

Zora wearing pants

Many attended the kickoff event and listened to Dr. Rafia Zafar talk (see more from Dr. Zafar in her Library of America blog post) about Zora Neale Hurston and others have read the readers guide from the library or are making progress on “Jonah’s Gourde Vine.” I spent a little time reading “Zora Neale Hurston: a literary biography” by Robert E. Hemenway with a forward by Alice Walker.  The forward is really a love letter to Zora and tells of how Walker discovered her work and what it meant to her.  She talks about Zora giving her the perfect book.  The contents showed very regular black Americans in a way that made their typical stories marvelous.  As Walker learned more about Zora, she admired more about her.  She was funny, irreverent, good-looking, sexy, and confident.  She was curious and traveled “to find out anything she simply had to know” (p. xv).  She wore pants and lit up cigarettes in public during a time when it wasn’t acceptable lady like behavior.  In short, Zora lived life on her terms, not as someone else prescribed.  We probably all need exposure to someone who reminds us that we have options and choices.  Someone who inspires us because we can relate to them and respect them.  For Alice Walker, that person was Zora Neale Hurston.

Sure enough, she is smoking!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What a great kickoff!

Dr. Rafia Zafar, from Washington University, gave us a great kickoff speech about Zora Neale Hurston.
Dr. Zafar is a Professor of English, African and African American, and American Culture Studies at Washington University, and it was truly wonderful to hear her speak. If you didn't get a chance to hear Dr. Zafar on May 25, be sure and join us for the August 24 discussion and click here to watch a video of Dr. Zafar discussing the books she edited for Library of America, The Harlem Renaissance; Four Novels of the 1930s and The Harlem Renaissance; Five Novels of the 1920s.