Student Companion to Zora Neale Hurston

By Josie P. Campbell | Go to book overview

7

Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)

Although Hurston would go on to publish her final novel, Seraph on the Suwanee (1948), and live another twelve years, dying on January 28, 1960, her autobiography details the poignant and sometimes bitter ironies of her life as well as its victories. Despite the fact that Hurston had published five books by 1940 and remained steadfast in her career as a writer, she also remained dependent on white patronage. She rarely had much money, working at temporary and never very satisfactory jobs. Her conversations with her publisher (Bertram Lippincott) about a new book brought his proposal that she write her autobiography, which he thought would sell to a wide audience (meaning, of course, a white audience).

Although Hurston seemed reluctant to work on this project, she agreed—most likely for the money and to keep her work alive in the publishing world—and traveled to California in 1941, moving in with a wealthy friend, Katharine Mershon (Hemenway 275). Dust Tracks was published in November 1942, and was a commercial success. As Hemenway notes: “It did not offend whites, it sold well, most critics liked it, and it won the Saturday Review ’s $1000 AnisfieldWolf Award for its contribution to ‘the field of race relations’ (Hemenway 288). The irony of the Award, however, rests in the fact that the autobiography had to conform to what Lippincott believed to be white readers’ expectations; portions of the book critical of racial policies within the United States and abroad were deleted—with Hurston’s permission—because of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Deleted passages of the text were restored in 1995 by the Li-

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