“Lyin’ Up a Nation”
Zora Neale Hurston and the Literary Uses of the Folk
Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there
are the least outside influences and these people, being usually underpri-
vileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that
which the soul lives by. And the Negro, in spite of his open-faced laugh-
ter, his seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive. You see we are a
polite people and we do not say to our questioner, “Get out of here!” We
smile and tell him or her something that satisfies the white person because,
knowing so little about us, he doesn't know what he's missing. The Indian
resists curiosity by stony silence. The Negro offers a feather-bed resistance.
That is, we let the probe enter, but it never comes out. It gets smothered
under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON, MULES and MEN (1935)
My ultimate purpose as a student is to increase the general knowledge
concerning my people, to advance science and the musical arts among my
people, but in the Negro way and away from the white man's way.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON, FELLOW SHIP APPLICATION,
JHON SIMON GUGGENHEIM MEMORIAL FOUNDATION (1933)
In her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Zora Neale Hurston vividly recounts her earliest exposure to the folklore of her people. Lingering on the porch of Joe Clarke's store, “the heart and spring” of her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, a young Hurston would often catch fragments of forbidden talk, the talk of men: “sly references to the physical condition of women, irregular love affairs, brags on male potency by the party of the first part, and the like.” Though she didn't understand the implications of their talk until she “was out of college and doing research in