Zora Neale Hurston's Story of the Last Slave Ship Survivor : The NYPL Podcast Ep. 215

By NYPL Staff
May 15, 2018

The New York Public Library Podcast features your favorite writers, artists, and thinkers in smart talks and provocative conversations. Listen to some of our most engaging programs, discover new ideas, and celebrate the best of today’s culture.

In 1860, more than fifty years after the transatlantic slave trade became illegal, a schooner named Clotilda docked on the Alabama shores. It carried in its hull the last known group of slaves to be brought to the United States. Among them was a man named Kossola, who became the last surviving member of the group. In 1927 and ’28, Zora Neale Hurston, icon of the Harlem Renaissance, visited Kossola toward the end of his life to record a series of interviews. The result was Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, a book that Hurston completed in the early 1930s but that remained unpublished until 2018.

What prevented this little-known masterpiece by one of America’s greatest writers to receive its due recognition? To discuss the book's history and Hurston's legacy, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture welcomed Barracoon’s editor and noted Hurston scholar, Deborah G. Plant. She was joined by the founder of the book club Well-Read Black GirlGlory Edim, and Dr. Sylviane Diouf, an award-winning author and historian of the African Diaspora. The conversation was moderated by  Dr. Cheryl Sterling, Director of the Black Studies Program at City College of New York.


[ Music ]

>> I'm Aidan Flax-Clark and you're listening to the New York Public Library Podcast. Last week, Amistad Press published a new, old book by Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance writer who is best known for her novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God". The book is called, "Barracoon", and it's based on Hurston's conversations with a man named Cudjo Lewis, who's believed to be the last living survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. Hurston worked as an anthropologist before her fiction career took off and she interviewed Lewis multiple times in the late 1920's. Hurston finished the book in 1931, but Barracoon has never been published until now. Cudjo Lewis came to the United States in 1860 on the slave ship Clotilda, the last known ship to have brought ships to this country more than 50 years after the import of slaves had become illegal. Lewis, who's African name was Kossula, lived in a place called Africantown which is a small community outside of Mobile, Alabama. Barracoon was edited by Deborah G. Plant, who is a Zora Neale Hurston Scholar and a literary critic. She was at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture to read from the book and talk about it and she was joined for that by Glory Edim, who's the founder of the book club of Well Read Black Girl and Dr. Sylviane Diouf, a historian of the African Diaspora, who's books include a history of the Clotilda called, "Dreams of African in Alabama". The conversation was moderated by Dr. Cheryl Sterling, who's the director of the black studies program at City College of New York. We'll start with a reading from Barracoon, by the book's editor, Deborah G. Plant.

>> It was summer when I went to talk with Cudjo. So, his door was standing wide open. But I knew he was somewhere about the house before I entered the yard, because I had found the gate unlocked. When Cudjo goes down into his back field or away from home, he locks his gate with an ingenious wooden peg of African invention. I held him by his African name, as I walked up the steps to his porch and he looked up into my face as I stood in the door in surprise. He was eating his breakfast from a round enamel pan with his hands in the fashion of his fatherland. The surprise of seeing me, halted his hand between pan and face and tears of joy welled up. Oh, Lord, I know it you call my name. Nobody don't callee my name from across the water but you. You always callee me Kossula just like I in the Africa soil. We don't know why we be bring way from our country to work like this. It's strange to us. Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk with the other colored folkses, but they don't know what we say. Some make de fun as us. After they free us, you unnerstand me, we so glad. We make de drum and beat it like in the Africa soil. My countrymen come from Cap'n Burn's Meaher plantation where we is in the Magazine Point so we be together. Therefore, we join ourselves together to live. But we say, we ain't in the Africa soil no more, we ain't gotee no land, therefore, we talk together, so we say, they bring us way from our soil and work us hard to 5 years and 6 months. We go to Cap'n Tim, Cap'n Jim and they give us land, so we makee houses for ourself. They say, Cudjo, you always talkee good, so you go tell the white man and tell dem what the Africans say. All the Africans, we workee hard. We getee work in the mill, in the powder mill. Some of us work for the railroad. The women work too so they can help us. They don't work for the white folks. They raisee a garden and put a basket on dey head and go into Mobile and sell the vegetable. We makee the basket and the women sellee them too. Therefore, you unnerstand me, that one day, not long after they tell me to speakee for land, so we buildee our houses, Cudjo cutting timber for the mill, it de place where the schoolhouse at now. Cap'n Tim Meaher come sit on the tree, Cudjo just chop it down. I say, now is the time for Cudjo to speakee for his people. We want land so much, I almost cry. And, therefore, I stopee work and lookee and lookee at Cap'n Tim. He sit on a tree chopping splinters wid his pocket knife. We he doan hear the axe fall on the tree no more, he look up and he see Cudjo standing there. Therefore, he astee me, Cudjo, what make you so sad. He say, I tell him, Cap'n Tim, I grieve for my home. He say, but you've got a home Cudjo. Cudjo say, Cap'n Tim, how big is the Mobile? I don't know Cudjo, I've never been to the four corners. Well, if you give Cudjo all of de Mobile, dat railroad and all de banks, Cudjo doan want it because it ain't home. Cap'n Tim, you brought us from our country where we had land. You made us slaves, now they make us free, but we ain't got no country and we ain't got no land. Why doan you give us a piece dis land so we can build ourselves a home. Cap'n jump on his feet and say, fool! Do you think I gone give you property on top of property?! I tookee good care of slaves in slavery, and derefo, I don't owe dem nothin. You don't belong to me now. Why must I give you my lan? Cudjo tell Gumpa to call the people together and he tell, he tell them what Cap'n Tim say. They say, well, we buy ourself a piece of lan. We workee hard and save and molassee and bread and buy the land from the mill. They don't take one five cent from the price for us but we pay it all and takee the land. Therefore, we buildee the houses on the land we buy after we buyed it up. Cudjo take one acre and a half for his part. We don't pay nobody to build our houses, we all go together and buildee houses for one another, so then we getee houses. Cudjo don't buildee no house at first because he ain't got no wife. We call our village, African Town. We say that, because we want to go back in the Africa soil and we see we can't go. Therefore, we makee de Africa where they fetch us. Gumpa say, my folks sell me and your folks, Americans, buy me. We here, we got to stay. At the end, the bond had become so strong for him to which to follow me to New York. It was a very sad morning in October when I said the final goodbye. And, I looked back the last time at the lonely figure that stood on the edge of the cliff that fronts the highway. He had come to the front of this place that overhangs the Cochran highway that leads to the bridge of that name. He wanted to see the last of me. He had saved two peaches, the last he had found on his tree, for me. When I crossed the bridge, I know he went back to his porch, to his house full of thoughts, to his memories of fat girls with ringing, golden bracelets, to his drums that speak the minds of men, to palm-nut cakes and bull roarers, to his parables. I'm sure that he does not fear death. In spite of his long Christian fellowship, he is too deeply opinioned to fear death, but he is full of trembling awe before the alter of the past. Thank you.

[ Applause ]

>> Zora Neale Hurston is definitely part of our inheritance. She had such a rich, rich history and I think a lot of us just see ourselves in her. I remember encountering her work in undergrad and just being taken by the truth of it and the, there was no posturing with Zora, she was simply herself. And, especially with the dialect. I had never read a book that simply sounded so real and it continues to do so with reading Barracoon. I'm like how could this not have been published before? How can, and I went to Howard, I didn't realize it was in our archives there at the library. So much of her work speaks to the authenticity that we're looking for as black women to be bold and just completely ourselves at every moment and that, for me that's who she was.

>> What I think for me, you know, I mean, I encountered her before my real kind of rendition if you will with her was a manuscript when I was writing my book on the entire story of the people of the Clotilda. I looked for sources and I found Barracoon, the manuscript. And, I had to make sure that I could use it as a historian. You know, which means that I had to be very careful. I had to actually make sure that everything that was in there was, I mean could collaborate it with other documents and records, because as a historian you have to do that. And, I found out that, yes, it was very reliable. And, because it was an interview, there was this kind of emergency that was completely different feeling.

>> Hurston, a work, when I read it, I read myself. I saw my, my own life. For many people, the first book is, "Their Eyes Were Watching God". And so, it was for me as well. The stories and you know, the sermons, the mock sermons and the proverbs that the minister, the preacher, would speak, I heard them myself in church on Sunday mornings. And, I, as you were saying, I saw myself and I had not seen that before in literature, not the way Hurston presented it. And so, I was, I felt a firm in a way and then I was just simply captivated by, just her style, her style as well as the content of her work and of course, I wanted to read more and I did. And, when I did, I wanted to do more and so, as a graduate student, working on my PhD, that was my focus. And, I don't care what course I took, I had to focus on Zora Neale Hurston. It can be expository writing it can be, you know, drama or whatever, if I had a paper to write, everything for me was focused on Hurston. She gave me a sense of, not only myself but a sense of our culture as what she called the greatest cultural wealth on the continent. And, I agreed with that and, and she was actually right about that in my opinion. And so, part of my graduate work as well as a major part of my career as a researcher and professor was to assist with that process of having that cultural wealth known.

>> What took so long for this book to become published? Why, why did we have to wait, you know, all these years. But first maybe when you know, maybe talk about when it was first written, was it 1927?

>> Well, she began to conduct the interviews starting in '27, then intensely so in 1928. And, by 1931, she had a completed draft.

>> And so, we've waited how long now before we can get the full manuscript?

>> Eighty something years.

[ Multiple Speakers ]

>> You know, she went and met in 1927, then she went back in the summer of 1928. And, for 2 months, you know, she talked with him. And so, the, the manuscript and the notes and everything, that's when she combined it and so, that was in 1928 and we're in 2018, so that's really 90 years since that was recorded and she tried to have it published in 1931.

>> Why couldn't it be published at that time? That's what I'm really wondering, 1931, 19, in the 1930s, we have this whole new, this new deal project where The Works Progress administration, they're collecting slave narratives, they're compiling all this information that was never previously known. This was, would've been a great time, you know, to bring this kind of, this narrative that's coming all the way from Africa to this new world, to bring it out to the public.

>> Well, when you talk about collecting the narratives and what not, that comes a little later. There are several reasons we can conjecture in terms of why it wasn't published yet. But I believe that one of the main reasons it wasn't published, it you know, when we look at the one fact that we do know is that Hurston submitted the manuscript to the Viking Press. They turned it down, but not because, they wanted the manuscript, but only if as if they wrote as a letter to her, only if you write it in language rather than dialect, okay. So, this begins to answer your question, several things are [inaudible] with that. Number one, the idea that dialect is not a language, number 2, that language which basically, the letters referring to standard English, that it is not a dialect, but it's a dialect as well, so Hurston said no to this. No, that she wouldn't change the language, why not? Hurston was a trained ethnographer. It would go against everything she knew as an ethnographer, ethnographers, when they're doing their work to collect a story, to create a profile, to understand an individual or understand a community, one of the things that she taught to do is to write down exactly one an informant says in exactly the way the informant says it. And, she therefore, in the, in writing Kossula's story, wrote it in the way he spoke, she wrote it phonetically, she wrote it in his rhythm, she wrote it from his perspective. And, this is, this is how you authenticate a particular person, the story, a group or what have you, she, to not do that would be to compromise everything she knew as a social scientist. Now, why is it important to maintain that authentic voice? Kossula spoke in a creole language. He spoke the black vernacular, black vernacular is one variety of what we can Atlantic creoles. In that creole language, it tells you something about the history of someone, where you're from, what your language system, your initial language system was, your mother tongue. It tells you what happened to you. Because a creole language is a language that combines the mother tongue, the grammar of the mother tongue of an individual with the vocabulary of the lexicon of an imposing, a dominating power. And so, you have a West African language system in the grammatical structure and you have, in Kossula's case, English words. It says something about the history, it says something about his experiences, it says something about his humanity, it says something about who he is. To deny him that voice is to then deny him his humanity, his history and is also to deny what happened to him. Because Kossula did not speak black English in Africa, he was of Yoruba decent. He would've spoken a dialect of Yoruba, not black vernacular, not of creole necessarily. And so, the question becomes, what happened in Kossula's life that he had to generate a language to negotiate this environment in America. To deny him that is basically to engage in what we call historical erasure. And, to again, dominate and silence a voice rather than hear the truth of what that voice had to say and Hurston knew that and she stood by that, and so, we have the authentic voice of Kossula.

>> And, you're reading the text and you're working the text and how does the language inform the work that you did and Glory, how does this language, you know, work and popular, in popular reading, are people struggling, you know, are they really trying to get through the text or is it flowing smoothly and are they following the kind of like the reasoning according to what Dr. Plant said.

>> Yeah, that's a great question. I think when I encountered the text, I definitely was patient with myself and the language. I sat with it, I was like, really wanting to understand exactly, what Zora, Zora Neale Hurston was doing. I wanted to be able to understand his perspective and throughout the novel, he's literally mourning, like he's crying. You see there's several moments where he's weeping within the book and you see the, the passage, you see his whole, this man's whole life, you know, when he's coming to the Americas, after emancipation. And, he has memories when he's talking about what happened in his village and how he was attacked, and you see the whole life cycle of slavery through this one narrative. And, for maybe for picking up the book if I had not known the, the context of it, I perhaps would immediately assume this was a narrative like, Their Eyes Were Watching God. And, wanted to rush through it, but because I knew this was story of the last known man, I gave myself the patience to sit with it. And, I think anyone who picks up this book needs to do that, because there were really moments where you don't understand, and you have to go back and reread it but that in itself is really powerful.

>> I mean in terms of the language for me, was again, I mean I think I'm going to repeat what I said before. It's him, it's his emotion, it's his way of speaking and that is very different from, from you know, a kind of dry written language.

>> When he's even going into Yoruba, using Yoruba words, how were you able to kind of pull the true, the word itself, that's in it's more modern-day context from the word that he's using.

>> And, it's difficult because Yoruba, as you well know is a solo language, so it's very difficult to actually transcribe. And, she did the best she could, and I think, you know, she did very well. And, you know, some of the words are kind of incomprehensible in Yoruba, but others, you know, I ask my, my informants in Benin, you know, to try to decipher and they did, so she did a good work. He was free to express himself and she was there, you know, as a trained scholar, you know, to really, to really relay what you are saying. And so, that text is much richer than many others because we are again, we are all of this, all of those facets, all of those words, all of those expressions. You know, I've read a lot, it's not that there are a lot of narratives by Africans, but there are a number of them, but this one is unique in that sense.

>> I was struck when I was looking at the names like, one of his names is Oluwale, and that means like, Lord or redeemer of the night. And, you know, Celia, his wife's name, Abile which is like born with honor. And, I'm thinking, these are such majestic names and of course, they come into the most horrific conditions, you know, possible for human beings to experience. But I want to switch a little bit to something that was written by Zora and she talks, and I'm going to just quote just a little bit in here. She says, my people had sold me, she's talking about the Barracoon and how she felt about it. It impressed upon me, the universal nature of greed and glory. And so, kind of, you know, she, she's talking about her disappointment of course in finding out the, some of the, some of the history that Kossula, that Kossula is telling her. But I just want to address this as both a diasporic story, the diaspora story of enslavement, I mean you can address that. And, also the difference in African enslavement, what that meant. So, in terms of the diaspora, the sense of being at lost, you know, to the sense of being the separation, the sense of you know, this kind of this unity of this African, this African self. But then of course, when we're actually dealing with West African slavery or even African slavery, it's a very different sense.

>> I'll sense as Hurston put it, my people sold me, a lot of that has to do with our sense of history or I will say basically, a history that we are not, a part of history we don't really know, we're not very familiar with and that is, history of Africa before our coming into some, to the place where we begin to reach out to Africa, to embrace Africa as people of the African diaspora, that wasn't always the case. And, once we did, we wanted that relationship. Why? Because we lived in a hostile America. Wherever people in the diaspora are, are, where you are a "minority", you're looking for whatever a human being is looking for. Who am I and where do I belong? And so, in that sense of belonging, that will to find something to identify with or people to identify with, you know, we call Africa the motherland and we would refer to Africans as you know, our sisters and brothers and what have you. But the thing about it is that when we look into the history of Africa, there was no Africa. There were specific ethnic groups, there were specific populations and people on the continent, identify it that way. There was no Pan Africanism and such, that came into being gradually. But in Hurston's day, the idea that there was an Africa and Africans, that was imposed, and we get that identity as Africa and Africans comes because of the whole business, the whole enterprise, because of European colonial, colonization and colonialism. And so, that force, that identity, but until then, you, on the continent, you were of a specific ethnic group. You had specific cultural traditions and customs and what not and that's where you got your sense of self from, not from an entire continent. I mean even today, you know, rather than refer two people from different nations, we just say, well, they're African. That's a, that's a huge place, and so, you know, we have to take the time to understand that and to relate to people in ways that makes sense in terms of who they know themselves to be. So, for African Americans, we'll always, I believe, have that sense of those are my people. And, at the same time we have to respect the fact that, at that point in time, the sense of every one on the continent is my sister or my brother, that just wasn't the case at the time and we have to respect that and honor those distinctions. Now, that doesn't make anybody feel any better about what happened, okay, it just doesn't. It, you know, Kossula, it doesn't make his, the violence that he experienced any less because it wasn't done by a brother or a sister. Speaking of sisters, you know, those amazon women, they were just ruthless, they were terrible, horrible. And, it doesn't make it any less, because a person was of the same skin pigmentation. It doesn't make it, will you hurt less if the person were different? I don't think so. But the question of identity is going to be ongoing, because it's like I said, it goes to the core of who we are as human beings. Who am I and where do I belong? But when we don't understand the history that was, well, what it was during his day, and even, you know, to a great extent during these days, we have to be careful about over general, generalizations, speaking, you know as so people are one, one collective. We are collective as human beings, generally speaking, but then because of the whole issue of identity and cultures and nations and nationalities and all of these kinds of things, we have to also respect that.

>> Thank you.

[ Applause ]

>> Sylviane, maybe you could speak about the history of the trade on the side, on the African side, you know, what it meant for you know, the populations along the coastline. And, then I'm going to come to you Glory with a question about modern day identity, you know.

>> It is, Barracoon, there's only one person who said, my people sold me. And, because he was actually sold by his people. But the, for the others, whether they were on the Clotilda or for other Africans, if you know, all the testimony that we have, again, to your point, nobody said, you know, we were sold by black people or we were sold by Africans or we were sold by our brothers and sisters, they were sold by other people. And so, you know, I don't need to repeat what you said, but this is the reality. And, one of the things also, I think which is very important to, to keep in mind, Barracoon as well as other interviews that the last survivors gave, they always said, you know, call us by our names, so that if the story ever goes back to where we came from our families will know that we are still alive and, I think this is very important. We are, you know, there are a lot of testimonies of Africans, I feel like, I wrote a whole, a whole chapter in another book on that. People went to the coast to try to get the freedom of their loved ones back. Now, to do that, they were sometimes forced to actively participate in the slave trade. It was if you were able to find that you know, your daughter or your son or your or your sister were held in a barracoon, you could get that person back. But then you have to give two or three people. So, what did people do, you know, they would sometimes kidnap somebody and exchange them. And, you have to ask yourself the question what would I do, right? So, I think, you know, and we also have a lot of testimonies of people who went year after year after year after year, to the coast asking slave ship captains, you know, my son's name was so and so. And, I know he was taken on such and such boat, do you know where it is, or she is. And, we also have very few, but some examples of families in Africa were able to actually find their loved ones in the Americas, whether, you know, they were in the United States or in Brazil or other places. And, were able sometimes 10-20 years later, to find, you know, money to give to a slave ship captain to actually redeem their loved ones in Brazil. I found also a case here in Georgia of a father who went to Pike County, Georgia who found his son, by this time the son had already had 11 children, right. So, it took a long time for the father to find him, but this is just you know, to give an idea of, of the fact that families in Africa never cease to hope and try to get you know, their loved ones back. So, and, in, in this particular story, I mean they said that time and again. And, Kossula was being in the United States for 76 years by then I think or I think 70. That was his mission, you know, he wanted his story to go back so that his family would know that he was still alive, and I think it's very powerful.

[ Applause ]

>> Glory, do you want to address this kind of modern conundrum with identity that we still have?

>> Oh yeah, of course, I'm first generation, both my parents are Nigerian, and my father recently passed, but he had lived in Nigeria since 1996. So, I would go back and forth to see my family and I do have a very strong connection to the continent. But earlier, you said, how Cudjo had named his children, gave them the American name and the, kept their traditional Yoruba name. That is something that we still do now, you know, this idea, duality of coming to the Americas. His kids could've been considered in their own way, first generation, so they were the first ones to come here forcibly, but they were the first ones to change their identities over to suddenly being in Africatown but being American. And, I think that is another perspective that comes through Barracoon very clearly that how this transition happens. And, you want to hold on to the legacy in that your identity in Africa, but the reality is, you're here in the Americas, how do you do both? And, for some, that's easier than others when you have the ability to keep your language and teach that, that is a clear understanding. But what happens when that starts to, you lose that, you know, I'm able to speak our native dialect. My family is, they're not Yoruba or Igbo, they're actually Efik which is a very small minority group in Nigeria. And, even here, I struggle with that. So, to see it happen within the narrative is, is really powerful to see that how you, I had never heard of people going and actually finding their loved ones. That is an important story, I sat here like, oh my gosh, it's amazing, why don't we have more stories of that, of the survival and the resistance. And, Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston visits Lewis several other times. There's a film that is made, there's, she addresses an experience with him in his other books without necessarily saying his name. I think that revisiting identity within books, within our own lived experiences is really important as well. How we choose to do it can be in so many different forms, whether they're writing it down or actually documenting it or simply having oral history, that is part of identity, holding on to these different parts of who we are in celebrating them and keeping it within our lineage. Now in the modern era, it's like a, I think it's easier to do because of the, all of the like, things we have with technology but it's harder to keep, it's easier to do but harder to keep up with, like, what is, like how do we fact check or see if this is true or not, I don't know if that's making sense or not but like, I think it's harder for us to actually document things in a coherent way that doesn't like, the iterations don't confuse and what originally happened, like the manuscript that Zora Neale Hurston has is a living document but identity changes. And, I'm so glad to be sitting on stage with these historians that I can clarify that. Do you think that if this hadn't, if we hadn't had the book in the space that we have now, if had actually had been changed and edited into like, they originally wanted to, the publishers wanted to change it to something else, do you think we would have the same richness or the same honesty that we have now?

>> No.

>> No, and again if you read, "Historic Sketches of the South" by, I can't believe that I forgot her name, Emma Langdon Roche, she met with the last 8 survivors of the Coltilda and she wrote a book, and I mean, it was published in 1914. And, she photographed them, she sketched them, she knew them very well and she knew Cudjo until he passed away and she was very perceptive. But she wrote the story as you know, I mean, she wrote the story, she talked to them and she wrote. But again, all the information is there, you know, all the facts if you will. But again, what is and I love the book, I mean and it's a very, I mean it's a great book and it's full of facts etcetera. But again, it's a book written by somebody else, so there are things that Cudjo said to Zora that are not in her book and in Emma's book and maybe because he didn't say them or maybe she didn't think it was important, or we don't know. But just the fact that Zora just you know, was sitting there and you know, listening to him and recording what he was saying, that again is, there's another level that it gives to anybody but also to the historian as you said very, very well.

>> What did strike me is the history in this book, you know, I do a lot of work in Brazil and in my book, you know, "African Roots, Brazilian Rights", I specifically talk about the kind of Transatlantic discourse between Brazilians, Afro-Brazilians and the people in Nigeria and in West African. And, there's a lot of movement. The unique thing about Brazil was that there was a lot of movement between the enslaved population and the free population and people did go looking for relatives and found relatives. And, even to this day, there are people who have families on both sides of the Atlantic who will commune with each other and celebrate with each other, you know, across the board. So, what's really, what struck me was all the levels of information that we got in this narrative, you know, the wars that were going on within the Dahomian Empire, it's seeking for ascendants, you know, outside, you know, with its vassal stakes. We can debunk some of the heroic narratives, you know, the narratives of the Amazons who were the guard for the king which we all saw in Black Panther, you know, revisited in Black Panther in a different way. But how the Amazons themselves were slave herders, they were you know, slave gatherers. We can see the way that they, that you know, returnees, Brazilian returnees became part of the slave trade because you know, after they, many people left Brazil to return to West Africa, how they found, made their living was to become slave traders. So, I kept looking at this and I was saying, this man is a walking testament to you know, I don't know how many books I've had to read and so many people had to read. And, I was like, well, maybe I only had to read this one, you know. It's not a question just so you know, to open it up for more comment obviously.

>> You know, you were mentioning earlier, why the book was not published in the 1930s, but my question is why wasn't it published earlier than 2018. Because, you know, I mean, not to go back to my book, I mean my book was published in 2007 and I expected actually that at that time, you know, because I had brought attention to the manuscript that it would be published, maybe a year later, 2 years later and nothing happened. And, I won't, I won't, and again, I mean the scholarship of slavery and the slave trade today and the slave trade today is very much more and more interested in, in stories. And, in particular experiences rather than, you know, something large, you know, wasn't before, but examples, you know, individual stories. And so, that was the perfect piece to be published. And, I don't know and maybe you do know, so it's a question that I'm asking you, why, why was it published in 2018?

>> Okay. Well, one of the first things that crossed my mind when you were talking, is that you are a historian. And, for as much as we talk about in academic environments, we talk about interdisciplinarity. It really doesn't happen very often. And so, you saw the significance of this manuscript, I know you did because I've read you. And, and it's a wonderful work and I'm so glad you did it.

>> Thank you.

>> Yes, thank you so much. But you know, when we think about Hurston, we really think of a writer. And so, writers don't know what historians are doing, historians don't know what anthropologists are doing, I'm not talking about, you probably do. But you know, so we are all in these different camps and we don't know what one another is doing. It's been my experience as, as a critic, a literary critic that once a prominent, trustworthy voice makes a statement or a judgment about something, everybody sort of, they fall in line with that and then no question is asked. If someone says we can dismiss this or it's not an important work or it was a work of someone's imagination, then we, we don't even bother to look at it. And, it's suggested that we have to ask questions where statements are made, and assessments are made and judgments are made and condemnation is declared. We have to ask is this so and we have to investigate, and we're not really taught to do that. We're not really taught to do that, to ask the questions to be inquiring and what have you. And so, that has a lot to do with why it wasn't. And, if we look at the history of Hurston in terms of publishing, it has, it has been a part of her history that once a pronouncement has been made about her work, it goes out of print. She is, she goes into obscurity, and it takes a whole revolution of black, of feminist writers and womanist writers to bring her back to life, so.

[ Applause ]

You know, so that's part of it. Now that her works are back in print and there is you know, agreement with publishers to reprint various works and to print unpublished works, that's only in process now. So, as members of the trust and particular representatives of publishing houses are saying, you know, we want to get her, we want to create or formulate a Hurston cannon and formulating that cannon, the works are being restored, the works are being reprinted, what has been unpublished is being published. So, in that kind of you know, progression, that has a lot to do with it, you know, it's not just any one reason why now. I was talking with someone earlier and she asked me the same question, you know, why now after all of these years. And, I would, I would like to say, all of what I've just said and then I would say also that it's just time, it, there's something that happens cosmically and there's a synchronicity. And, I think the consciousness of the continent, the whole globe, the consciousness is being raised, so that we can finally have conversations about these issues so that we can actually evolve as a society of human beings.

>> Yeah.

>> And, this is just, some things we, some things are just mysterious. And, when I look at what's being printed today in terms of you know, publications and what is being made into film and TV and what have you and there is a focus on this issue we call slavery. I call it captivity; I don't believe in slavery. So, there's a focus on this. We have Toni Morrison writing, "The Origin of Others". It talks about slavery. We have Colson Whitehead, "The Underground Railroad", Pulitzer prize winner, national book award winner and all of that. We have Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Between the World and Me" which also focuses on it. We have, "13th" by Ava DuVernay, about the 13th Amendment and Stephen Brianson [assumed spelling], telling us that slavery did not end with the 13th Amendment, it just came back in different guises. And so, so we're coming to a certain consciousness about this whole ordeal of robbing people of their sovereignty. We cannot go forward with that. And so, I think some chord has been struck and all of that gathers to bring us what we have. I think, I think that has something to do with it.

[ Applause ]

>> That was Deborah G. Plant, Glory Edim and Dr. Sylviane Diouf, speaking with Dr. Cheryl Sterling about the Zora Neale Hurston book, Barracoon. The book is available at your local NYPL branch and many, many other of Zora Neale Hurston's books are also available on our app, SimplyE. The New York Public Library podcast is produced by Schuyler Swenson with editorial support from Richert Schnorr and myself.




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