One of the most acclaimed artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston was a gifted novelist, playwright, and essayist. Drawn from three decades of her work, this anthology showcases her development as a writer, from her early pieces expounding on the beauty and precision of African American art to some of her final published works.
This expansive volume, in five parts, revises existing perceptions of Hurston, like her well-known opposition to school integration and Richard Wright’s objection to her use of African American vernacular. Essays...help to clarify Hurston’s previously misunderstood positions, rooting them in her deep appreciation for African American language and culture, her unquestionable commitment to people of color and their welfare on American soil ... Especially striking here is the breadth of Hurston’s intellect on display. She peppers her essays with such exhaustive literary, historical, biographical, political, artistic, educational, religious references that if readers were simply to follow the footnotes alone (as compiled by West and Gates), they would gain a valuable education ... Readers familiar with Hurston’s work will note the continued signatures of her voice in these essays: the sassiness, the boldness to take to task those institutions or individuals who, in her mind, would exploit lesser-informed African Americans ... You Don’t Know Us Negroes adds immeasurably to our understanding of Hurston, who was a tireless crusader in all her writing, and ahead of her time. Though she was often misunderstood, sometimes maligned and occasionally dismissed, her words make it impossible for readers to consider her anything but one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century.
Five or six of these essays are obvious masterpieces of the form, their sting utterly intact. There’s a lot of filler here, too, though — mundane essays that, if you removed Hurston’s name, could have been written by anyone ... If the editors aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel, they’re an inch or two away. This book’s long introduction is well written but not, somehow, useful. The authors devote many pages to telling you what you are about to read and cherry-picking the best quotes. It’s like watching a 15-minute trailer for the film you’re about to watch ... Relevant biographical information is absent ... I liked this book anyway. Reading Hurston, you always wonder what shape her dignity will take next. Her style and spark were her own.
Editors Gates and West have created a volume that enables readers both steeped in and new to Hurston to discover her acerbic wit, her crisp prose, and the breadth of her artistic ability and interests. From trial coverage to folktales, explorations of spirituals and debacles at Howard University, Hurston’s inquiries provide an opportunity to experience the evolution of her work in context with her better-known writings ... This is an invaluable nonfiction companion to the collection of Hurston’s short stories, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (2020).