Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays

Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays

Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays

Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays

Synopsis

Though she died penniless and forgotten, Zora Neale Hurston is now recognized as a major figure in African American literature. Best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, she also published numerous short stories and essays, three other novels, and two books on black folklore.

Even avid readers of Hurston's prose, however, may be surprised to know that she was also a serious and ambitious playwright throughout her career. Although several of her plays were produced during her lifetime--and some to public acclaim--they have languished in obscurity for years. Even now, most critics and historians gloss over these texts, treating them as supplementary material for understanding her novels. Yet, Hurston's dramatic works stand on their own merits and independently of her fiction.

Now, eleven of these forgotten dramatic writings are being published together for the first time in this carefully edited and annotated volume. Filled with lively characters, vibrant images of rural and city life, biblical and folk tales, voodoo, and, most importantly, the blues, readers will discover a " real Negro theater" that embraces all the richness of black life.

Excerpt

Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays marks the first time that the extant dramatic writings of Zora Neale Hurston have ever been collected in a single volume. This feat would have been impossible if not for the work of librarians at the Library of Congress. in 1997, they found over a dozen plays and sketches stored in various locations throughout their vast holdings and rescued them from obscurity by sharing them in public monthly readings. Add to this treasure trove other library holdings and pieces from several ephemeral publications and we end up with a clear picture of Hurston’s theatrical output ranging from 1925 to 1944, a significant body of work that constitutes yet another facet of one of the most dynamic figures of the Harlem Renaissance. We hope this book will help to illuminate Hurston’s dramatic output in the same way that Alice Walker’s efforts in the 1970s brought her novels to the attention of a new generation of readers. Without production, plays are inert—incomplete blueprints for a live experience. We reproduce these works in the hope that theaters, scholars, and students today will rediscover a highly original dramatic voice.

With some notable exceptions, most critics and historians have glossed over Hurston’s playwriting; her theatrical pursuits have mostly been treated as diversionary or supplementary material for understanding her novels. While the threads connecting her plays to her novels—themes, idioms, characters, plots, and settings—echo back and forth from play to story to novel and back to play again, Hurston was no theatrical dilettante. She was a serious and ambitious practitioner, and her dramatic works stand on their own merits and independently of her fiction. Even while constantly struggling with poverty, she dedicated much of her energy in the 1930s to producing plays and working to establish black theaters with little hope of financial compensation. She also maintained a passionate belief that the precious oral culture collected in her life and fieldwork found its fullest expression on the stage. As she wrote in her oft-cited essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression” (1934), “Every phase of Negro life is highly dramatised…. Everything is acted out” (830). As a folklorist and ethnologist, she wanted to preserve the richness of black culture before it became diluted and disappeared, but she did not want her work to be “buried in scientific journals”—she wanted to share it with the world. By depicting black culture on stage, she hoped to make it a vibrant part of American art and life.

Hurston’s first formal education was a theatrical one. After a vicious argument with her stepmother, Hurston left her home in Eatonville, Florida, at the age of fourteen, taking odd jobs and moving frequently. By the time she turned twenty-four, she was broke, living in Memphis, and had little direction.

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