Valentine, Victoria L., The New Crisis
About five years ago I bought a first edition copy of Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men. I found it while wandering around a Black memorabilia show in Maryland. The ceramic mammy cookie jars didn't appeal to me, so I started looking at the few books vendors were offering alongside reproduction "Colored Waiting Room" signs.
I discovered Hurston's folklore collection sitting on a table among a handful of other books. I picked it up and flipped to the copyright page: 1935. It was published in Philadelphia and had 10 illustrations by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias. I thumbed through the rest of the book, held it for a moment, then put it down and began walking away.
I am an avid reader, and at the time I was a book editor at another magazine, so I was generally aware of the rare book market. But I wasn't a collector. Hurston I knew well, having first read her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in college.
Hurston was certainly a piece of work. Ask her age and it tended to fluctuate. Always the life of the (rent) party, she was confident, resourceful and talented. Even Hurston's critics admit that she had a way with words. Her stories - reflecting her rural South Florida roots didn't read like those of her contemporaries. Her perspectives on political and social issues and her many various writings - novels, short stories, folk tales, plays, an autobiography - prompt endless discussions. Decades later, her adventurous life is inspiring to contemporary women. The idea of owning an original copy of one of her books was intriguing.
I didn't make it to the end of the aisle before turning on my heels and heading back to retrieve the rust-toned hardcover. Even though it was lacking its dust jacket (which significantly decreases its value) the book was incredibly inexpensive. …