“De nigger woman is de mule uh de world”
Storytelling and the Black Feminist Tradition
Woman should not be compelled to look to sexual love as the one sensation
capable of giving tone and relish, movement and vim to the life she leads.
Her horizon is extended.
ANA JULIA COOPER, THE WOMAN’S ERA
We help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest hori-
zons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock
experiences of our daily lives.
AUDRE LORDE, “POETRY IS NOT A LUXURY,” SISTER OUTSIDER
In 1936, on the eve of Zora Neale Hurston’s departure to the Caribbean for what would be her last major ethnographic expedition, she wrote a letter to an Alabama librarian, William Stanley Hoole. In her letter, Hurston laid out the basic plot for a book that she had been kicking around for some time. It would be her follow-up novel to Jonah’s Gourd Vine, and in it she would tell the story of a brown woman:
Who was from childhood hungry for life and the earth, but because she
had beautiful hair was always being skotched upon a flag-pole by the men
who loved her and forced to sit there. At forty she got her chance at mud.
Mud, lush and fecund with a buck Negro called Tea Cake. He took her
down into the Everglades where people worked and sweated and loved and
died violently, where no such thing as flag-poles for women existed. Since
I narrate mostly in dialogue, I can give you no feeling in these few lines of
the life of this brown woman with her plentiful hair. But this is the barest
statement of the story.1