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Whose Blues?Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music$
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Adam Gussow

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469660363

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469660363.001.0001

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Zora Neale Hurston in the Florida Jooks

Zora Neale Hurston in the Florida Jooks

(p.151) Bar 8 Zora Neale Hurston in the Florida Jooks
Whose Blues?

Adam Gussow

University of North Carolina Press

Like W. C. Handy and Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston was a translator: she sought textual analogies—words on a page--for the bittersweet lyricism, dynamism, and bold self-declarations found in blues music made by Black people in the rural South of the early Twentieth Century. She was also, like both men, a migrant to the urban North, a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance. A biographical as well as literary-critical exploration, this chapter focuses on Hurston’s two best-known works: Mules and Men (1935), a folklore study, and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), a cornerstone of the African American literary tradition. Both works vividly evoke the rough but vital blues culture of rural Florida, offering us Black spaces of self-making through the eyes of a Black female participant-observer. Both texts also force readers to confront the presence of scarifying, sometimes deadly violence within that juke-joint world. Hurston, this chapter argues, uses the novel to rewrite the folklore study, offering us a questing and indomitable young woman, Janie Crawford, who earns her way into the blues and lives out her destiny with the help of Tea Cake, a passionate, adventurous, and mercurial young bluesman.

Keywords:   Zora Neale Hurston, African American, literary tradition, Violence, Juke joint, Great Migration, Blues

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