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Book Notes - Every Tongue Got To Confess (2)

Book Notes

From Publishers, Reviewers, and Authors

Title: Every Tongue Got To Confess

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: ISBN 0-06-018893-6

From Booklist

Hurston's deep fascination with story, language, and African American culture inspired her to become a folklorist, anthropologist, novelist, and memoirist in an age when black women were considered second-class citizens at best, and African American literature was segregated from the canon. When she died poor and forgotten in 1960, the lion's share of her papers were misplaced, including nearly 500 of the black folktales she collected while driving solo across the South in the 1920s. Published here for the first time, these rescued folktales are introduced by Carla Kaplan, who explains that Hurston had planned a seven-volume folktale series but was only able to publish two, Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse (1938).

In this catch-up collection, it's obvious that Hurston transcribed each tale with great care, intent on preserving both the sound and sense of this unique vernacular oral tradition. In his frank and penetrating foreword, John Edgar Wideman discusses the prickly question of how dialect enforces racial stereotypes, but clearly Hurston sought to capture the "folk voice" of the South out of deep respect for its canny inventiveness, subversive humor, and immeasurable impact on the American character.

And what treasures these are--mordantly clever and quintessentially human stories about God and the creation of the black race, the devil, preachers wily and foolish, animals, the battle between the sexes, and slaves who outsmart their masters. Invaluable tales of mischief and wisdom, spirit and hope. Donna Seaman

Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved

Hurston's notes, which somehow got lost, were recently rediscovered in someone else's papers at the Smithsonian. Divided into 15 categories ("Woman Tales," "Neatest Trick Tales," etc.), the stories as she jotted them down range from mere jokes of a few paragraphs to three-page episodes. Many are set "in slavery time," with "massa" portrayed as an often-gulled, but always potentially punitive, presence. There are a variety of "how come" and trickster stories, written in dialect.

Acting the part of the good anthropologist, Hurston is scrupulously impersonal, and, as a result, the tales bear few traces of her inimitable voice, unlike Tell My Horse, her classic study of Haitian voodoo. Though this may limit the book's appeal among general readers, it is a boon for Hurston scholars and may, as Kaplan says in her introduction, establish Hurston's importance as an African-American folklorist. (Dec.)Forecast: Hurston's name will ensure this title ample review coverage, and it should do well among lovers of folktales, particularly those curious about Hurston's career in the field.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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