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Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography

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Overview

First published in 1942 at the crest of her popularity as a writer, this is Zora Neale Hurston's imaginative and exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. The very personal, perhaps larger-than-life portrait that Hurston paints of herself offers a rare, poignant, and often audacious glimpse of the public and private persona of a very public and private artist, writer, anthropologist, and ...
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Overview

First published in 1942 at the crest of her popularity as a writer, this is Zora Neale Hurston's imaginative and exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. The very personal, perhaps larger-than-life portrait that Hurston paints of herself offers a rare, poignant, and often audacious glimpse of the public and private persona of a very public and private artist, writer, anthropologist, and champion of black heritage. Dust Tracks on a Road is a book full of the wit and wisdom of a proud and spirited woman who started off low and climbed high: "I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows with a harp and a sword in my hands."

The...autobiography of the late Zora Neale Hurston is "a rich and winning book by one of our few genuine, Grade A folk writers."--New Yorker

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Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
Warm, witty, imaginative, and down-to-earth by turns, this is a rich and winning book by one of our genuine, Grade A, folk writers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780606046596
  • Publisher: San Val, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/1991
  • Format: Library Binding

Meet the Author

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was deemed "one of the greatest writers of our time" by Toni Morrison. With the publication of Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox? new generations will be introduced to Hurston's legacy. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960.

Biography

During the 1920s, African-American culture in the United States received an exhilarating shot in the arm in the era known as the Harlem Renaissance. For the first time, black American art, music, and literature was being taken seriously among the intelligentsia as a significant force in contemporary culture. At the front of that movement were several writers, including Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston's work reflected the liberation and experimentation of post-war America. She published stories and co-founded the groundbreaking journal Fire! with poet Langston Hughes and novelist Wallace Thurman. By the ‘30s, Hurston was a bestselling writer, but with the Renaissance on the wane and a new era of politics, economic depression, and the "social realism" movement, Hurston's once glorious literary career was running into dire straits. She would end her life destitute, practically forgotten, buried in an unmarked grave in Florida. However, a resurgence of interest in her work during the 1970s and the tireless work of writer Alice Walker would help reestablish Hurston in her rightful place as one of America's greatest and most influential writers.

Born in Eatonville, Florida, in 1891 to a father who was a Baptist preacher, Hurston was well-versed from birth in the dynamics of the Southern black experience. She brought that keen vision to her writing and published her first story in the Howard University literary magazine while attending the school in 1921. Still, it was not until Hurston moved to New York City in 1925 that she really began to make waves on the literary scene. Her writing was characterized by its unflagging honesty and strength, qualities that Hurston herself exuded. She often ruffled feathers by refusing to adhere to the constricting gender conventions prevalent at the time. This strength and self-confidence was already apparent in the writer's very first works. Her debut novel Jonah's Gourde Vine was praised by The New York Times as "the most vital and original novel about the American Negro that has yet been written by a member of the Negro race." Her second was a bona fide classic, Mules and Men, a compendium of African American folk tales, songs, and maxims that drew on Hurston's extensive studies in Anthropology.

By the time Hurston published her signature work Their Eyes Were Watching God, the freestyle experimentalism of the Harlem Renaissance was being increasingly overcast by the Great Depression. As a result, a backlash ensued. Their Eyes Were Watching God, which told of a woman named Janie Crawford who goes through three marriages to separate men as she struggles to realize herself, was too steeped in the experimentalism of the Renaissance to please critics. Furthermore, her portrayal of a black woman's search for personal liberation was too much for many black men to stomach. Richard Wright, the acclaimed author of Native Son, even dismissed Their Eyes Were Watching God for not being "serious fiction." Today, such criticism may seem absurd, or at the very least, incredibly short-sighted, but at the time, Hurston's daring prose was not in vogue amongst the social realists.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, instead, displays a true structural adventurousness, splitting between the eloquence of the narrative voice and the idiomatic, ungrammatical dialogue of the black, southern characters. While works of the social realism movement were easily categorized by their left-wing politics and gritty delivery, Their Eyes Were Watching God was less simple to pigeonhole. It is at once a product of the Harlem Renaissance, an example of Southern literature along the lines of Faulkner, and a work of feminist literature. Consequently, the novel was criticized for being out of step with the times, and it went out of print very shortly after being published, leading to the collapse of Hurston's career and her standing as a significant literary figure.

Hurston would die in 1960, back in Florida, destitute, forgotten. Her books long unavailable, her death barely registered. She would not return to the public eye until 1975, when Alice Walker published an essay titled "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" in Ms. magazine. Along with other writer including Robert Hemenway and Tony Cade Bambara, Walker went on a crusade to revitalize Hurston's career fifteen years after the writer's death.

When Their Eyes Were Watching God was finally republished, it was reevaluated as a classic. Today, the novel is required reading in universities all over the country, and Hurston is widely acknowledged as one of the first great African-American women writers. As a final tribute to her idol, Walker also traveled to Florida where Hurston is buried and placed a marker on her grave, a long-overdue tribute to a great American writer reading with beautiful simplicity: "Zora Neale Hurston: Genius of the South."

Good To Know

Hurston's earliest work was a comedic play called Mule Bone, which she co-wrote with Langston Hughes. However, the play would not be performed until 1991 due to an arduous legal battle that also brought an untimely end to the friendship between Hurston and Hughes.

Spike Lee's audacious debut film She's Gotta Have It has been viewed by some as a hip adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the fact that the film opens with a quotation from Zora Neale Hurston may prove such theories correct.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      January 7, 1891
    2. Place of Birth:
      Eatonville, Florida
    1. Date of Death:
      January 28, 1960
    2. Place of Death:
      Fort Pierce, Florida
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1928 (the school's first black graduate). Went on to study anthropology at Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

MY BIRTHPLACE

Like the dead-seeming, cold rocks, I have memories within that came out of the material that went to make me. Time and place have had their say.

So you will have to know something about the time and place where I came from, in order that you may interpret the incidents and directions of my life.

I was born in a Negro town. I do not mean by that the black back-side of an average town. Eatonville, Florida, is, and was at the time of my birth, a pure Negro town--charter, mayor, council, town marshal and all. It was not the first Negro community in America, but it was the first to be incorporated, the first attempt at organized self-government on the part of Negroes in America.

Eatonville is what you might call hitting a straight lick with a crooked stick. The town was not in the original plan. It is a by-product of something else.

It all started with three white men on a ship off the coast of Brazil. They had been officers in the Union Army. When the bitter war had ended in victory for their side, they had set out for South America. Perhaps the post-war distress made their native homes depressing. Perhaps it was just that they were young, and it was hard for them to return to the monotony of everyday being after the excitement of military life, and they, as numerous other young men, set out to find new frontiers.

But they never landed in Brazil. Talking together on the ship, these three decided to return to the United States and try their fortunes in the unsettled country of South Florida. No doubt the same thing which had moved them to go to Brazil caused them to choose South Florida.

This had beendark and bloody country since the mid-seventeen hundreds. Spanish, French, English, Indian, and American blood had been bountifully shed.

The last great struggle was between the resentful Indians and the white planters of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. The strong and powerful Cherokees, aided by the conglomerate Seminoles, raided the plantations and carried off Negro slaves into the Spanish-held Florida. Ostensibly they were carried off to be slaves to the Indians, but in reality the Negro men were used to swell the ranks of the Indian fighters against the white plantation owners. During lulls in the long struggle, treaties were signed, but invariably broken. The sore point of returning escaped Negroes could not be settled satisfactorily to either side. Who was an Indian and who was a Negro? The whites contended all who had negro blood. The Indians contended all who spoke their language belonged to the tribe. Since it was an easy matter to teach a slave to speak enough of the language to pass in a short time, the question could never be settled. So the wars went on.

The names of Oglethorpe, Clinch and Andrew Jackson are well known on the white side of the struggle. For the Indians, Miccanopy, Billy Bow-legs and Osceola. The noble Osceola was only a sub-chief, but he came to be recognized by both sides as the ablest of them all. Had he not been captured by treachery, the struggle would have lasted much longer than it did. With an offer of friendship, and a new rifle (some say a beautiful sword) he was lured to the fort seven miles outside of St. Augustine, and captured. He was confined in sombre Fort Marion that still stands in that city, escaped, was recaptured, and died miserably in the prison of a fort in Beaufort, South Carolina. Without his leadership, the Indian cause collapsed. The Cherokees and most of the Seminoles, with their Negro adherents, were moved west. The beaten Indians were moved to what is now Oklahoma. It was far from the then settlements of the Whites. And then too, there seemed to be nothing there that White people wanted, so it was a good place for Indians. The wilds of Florida heard no more clash of battle among men.

The sensuous world whirled on in the arms of ether for a generation or so. Time made and marred some men. So into this original hush came the three frontier-seekers who had been so intrigued by its prospects that they had turned back after actually arriving at the coast of Brazil without landing. These young men were no poor, refuge-seeking, wayfarers. They were educated men of family and wealth.

The shores of Lake Maitland were beautiful, so they chose the northern end and settled. There one of the old forts--built against the Indians, had stood. It had been commanded by Colonel Maitland, so the lake and the community took their names in memory of him. It was Mosquito County then and the name was just. It is Orange County now for equally good reason. The men persuaded other friends in the north to join them, and the town of Maitland began to be in a great rush.

Negroes were found to do the clearing. There was the continuous roar of the crashing of ancient giants of the lush woods, of axes, saws and hammers. And there on the shores of Lake Maitland rose stately houses, surrounded by beautiful grounds. Other settlers flocked in from upper New York state, Minnesota and Michigan, and Maitland became a center of wealth and fashion. In less than ten years, the Plant System, later absorbed into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, had been persuaded to extend a line south through Maitland, and the private coaches of millionaires and other dignitaries from North and South became a common sight on the siding. Even a president of the United States visited his friends at Maitland.

These wealthy homes, glittering carriages behind blooded horses and occupied by well-dressed folk, presented a curious spectacle in the swampy forests so dense that they are dark at high noon. The terrain swarmed with the deadly diamondback rattlesnake, most potent reptile on the North American continent. Huge, centuries-old bull alligators bellowed their challenge from the uninhabited shores of lakes. It was necessary to carry a lantern when one walked out at night, to avoid stumbling over these immense reptiles in the streets of Maitland.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii
1 My Birthplace 1
2 My Folks 7
3 I Get Born 19
4 The Inside Search 25
5 Figure and Fancy 45
6 Wandering 63
7 Jacksonville and After 73
8 Back Stage and the Railroad 87
9 School Again 121
10 Research 143
11 Books and Things 171
12 My People! My People! 177
13 Two Women in Particular 193
14 Love 203
15 Religion 215
16 Looking Things Over 227
Appendix 233
"My People, My People!" 235
Seeing the World as It is 247
The Inside Light--Being a Salute to Friendship 267
Concert 279
Afterword 287
Selected Bibliography 299
Chronology 303
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2008

    Dust tracks on a Road review

    Growing up as a unique entity in a nineteenth century, dominantly African American town, Zora Neale Hurston was given more than enough material to write her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. Originally published in 1942 by J.B. Lippincott, Inc. This insight into Hurston¿s mind stretches the imagination and allows the reader to grow along with her in the novel, making her life very relatable although it may be set in a distant, seemingly unfamiliar world. The relationships Hurston presents and her interpretation of people and situations makes this charming novel easy to follow yet intriguing enough to push the mind to a depth of simple beauty. The history and culture of Eatonville, Florida, the town in which Hurston was born and raised, is very different than most of nineteenth century established towns in that it was founded and run by the free slave people of the south. This creates a sense of pride for her race, despite that many of the people she crossed were less than admirable. Because her town was dominated by one race, Hurston was compelled to explore different cultural atmospheres, leading to her migration. Zora knew she was different from others in the realization that her childhood was not the same as a person of similar circumstances. Although she may have the same kind of family, friends and schooling as other girls of her time, Hurston¿s mind was unique as it slowed down the fast pace of life to take pleasure in the smaller things while exploring and discovering worlds beyond her own. The descriptions may be conceived as confusing and unnecessary, but the intricate details showcase Hurston¿s extent of creativity at a young age. Hurston personifies many emotions and describes her relationship with them to show how she created relationships with these intangible forces that shaped her soul. No matter what circumstance, Hurston never ran from whatever emotion engulfed her being she bonded with each feeling or idea in order to grow from and use it to better herself and learn more about her place in the world. In struggling to become an accomplished writer and establish herself in the literary world, Hurston uses her past experiences to go beyond the boundaries of her culturally and socially stagnant hometown. The writing style is unique in that it parallels complex ideas and emotions with simple descriptions that make her mind frame easier to understand. ¿I have been in Sorrow¿s kitchen and liked out all the pots.¿ The writing style is extremely creative and descriptive. It goes beyond just the average and mundane use of verbs and adjectives but uses dramatic diction to create a better understanding of Hurston¿s point of view. The voice is confident in understanding her life as she looks back on it, comprehending fully her vulnerability and the extent of her growth from her childhood. This piece of work highlights the struggle in growth for a minority woman while demonstrating rhetoric that goes beyond the mundane. Though it may not be the most exciting and dramatic autobiography, the simplicity of the work that is translated through an artistic voice makes it is easy to appreciate if you understand the beauty in taking pleasure in the small things in life.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2011

    a ABSOLUTE read.

    The colloquial of Ms. Hurston gives me a chill and attracts my 70s spirit like nothing else I've read. I found myself laughing out loud on the train, at home alone or while walking (yes, i was walking and reading) just at her ability to phrase her emotions in ways so imaginative, only she would have been able to do so. Wonderful story of a wonderful woman.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2004

    scattered but the central idea is good

    the writing was jumpy, she tends to jump from one anecdote to the other without explanation. the book is unrelatable to. just when you are about to give up you get to the last five chapters and then the appendix, which are a redemption. it seems like she was holding back. she doesnt elaborate on events that happened, in fear of who knows what. if your going to attempt to tell it, then tell it all.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2002

    Lacking Character Development and Plot

    Dust Tracks on a Road lacks the character development needed to give a reader the ability to relate to the book and stay interested in it. Not only are there few, if any, main characters besides Zora Neale Hurston herself, but even her character is underdeveloped. This, along with the wandering and almost non-existent plot, leaves little to be interested in. Some of this might be due to the fact that parts of the book were taken out by Hurston's editor.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2000

    witty, fantastic, yet boring book

    This book could have been more interesting if it were shorter. I wasted my time reading thousands of pages..while I could have been doing some other important things.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2000

    Lacking Plot and Organization

    This book could have been written in twenty pages and would then be more enjoyable to the reader. Her life lacks the major events by which most of us define ourselfs by. She also leaves out major events that were taking place during her time and would have impacted her, like World War I.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2014

    Gym one

    Clame it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2014

    Brownstripe and Swiftnight's Bios

    Name - Brownstripe <br> Gender - &male <p> Age - 26 moons <p> Rank - Warrior <p> Personality - Sweet; kind. <p> Looks - light brown tabby with ice blue eyes. <p> Crush - Petalstorm <p> Mate - Petalstorm <p> Kits - Stripekit, Rosekit, Stormkit <p> History - *shrug* <p> Name - Swiftnight <p> Gender - &male <p> Age - 25 moons <p> Rank - Warrior <p> Personality - Sweet; kind. <p> Looks - Black and white tuxedo cat. Golden eyes. <p> Crush - Ivysong <p> Mate - Ivysong <p> Kits - None <p> History - *shrug* <p> Other RPes in next result.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2014

    Next result is bios

    Next result is bios

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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