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Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography (P.S.) (1942)

by Zora Neale Hurston

Other authors: Maya Angelou (Introduction)

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I read this in college. I probably didn't understand then what an immensely important writer Hurston was. I did go on to read some of her anthropological work, but it wasn't until half a century later that I discovered her fiction. The more I think back on my literary education, the more I realize how lacking it was in some key ways. ( )
  sturlington | Feb 17, 2015 |
This was wonderful. ZNH tells her own story very engagingly, with plenty of reflections on race, self-determination, American culture, religion, friendship, publishing, the works. She's acerbic in her observations; I kept on writing them down. At the time she wrote the autobiography, she was at the height of her success; a few years later she was out of the public eye, and she ended her life in poverty and obscurity, which is a terrible shame. Well, no one should die alone and impoverished, though.

Here are her words on poverty:

There is something about poverty that smells like death. Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry season and rotting around the feet; impulses smothered too long in the fetid air of underground caves. The soul lives in a sickly air. People can be slave-ships in shoes.

and on justice:

I too yearn for universal justice, but how to bring it about is another thing. It is such a complicated thing, for justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There is universal agreement of the principle, but the application brings on the fight.

But there were lighthearted moments, too, like this, from her childhood, which I shared on Livejournal:

I used to take a seat on top of the gate post and watch the world go by. One way to Orlando ran past my house, so the carriages and cars would pass before me. The movement made me glad to see it. Often the white travelers would hail me, but more often I hailed them, and asked, "Don't you want me to go a piece of the way with you?"

They always did. I know now that I must have caused a great deal of amusement among them, but my self-assurance must have carried the point, for I was always invited to come along. I'd ride up the road for perhaps a half mile, then walk back.

I recommend it, especially if you're interested in ZNH's writing. It's both entertaining and thought provoking.
( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
This was wonderful. ZNH tells her own story very engagingly, with plenty of reflections on race, self-determination, American culture, religion, friendship, publishing, the works. She's acerbic in her observations; I kept on writing them down. At the time she wrote the autobiography, she was at the height of her success; a few years later she was out of the public eye, and she ended her life in poverty and obscurity, which is a terrible shame. Well, no one should die alone and impoverished, though.

Here are her words on poverty:

There is something about poverty that smells like death. Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry season and rotting around the feet; impulses smothered too long in the fetid air of underground caves. The soul lives in a sickly air. People can be slave-ships in shoes.

and on justice:

I too yearn for universal justice, but how to bring it about is another thing. It is such a complicated thing, for justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There is universal agreement of the principle, but the application brings on the fight.

But there were lighthearted moments, too, like this, from her childhood, which I shared on Livejournal:

I used to take a seat on top of the gate post and watch the world go by. One way to Orlando ran past my house, so the carriages and cars would pass before me. The movement made me glad to see it. Often the white travelers would hail me, but more often I hailed them, and asked, "Don't you want me to go a piece of the way with you?"

They always did. I know now that I must have caused a great deal of amusement among them, but my self-assurance must have carried the point, for I was always invited to come along. I'd ride up the road for perhaps a half mile, then walk back.

I recommend it, especially if you're interested in ZNH's writing. It's both entertaining and thought provoking.
( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
Will add more quotes when I reread. For now, here are quotes from Written By Herself.

I think this book is the best of all Hurston's works that I've read, and shows her strengths as a writer and storyteller.

p. 36"In the classroom I got along splendidly. The only difficulty was that I was rated as sassy. I just had to talk back at established authority and that established authority hated backtalk worse than barbed-wire pie. My immediate teachers were enthusiastic about me. It was the guardians of study-hour and prayer meetings who felt that their burden was extra hard to bear."Must now remember to use the phrase "worse than barbed-wire pie" somewhere; it's too good not to quote.

40 - "I will not go so far as to say that I was poorly dressed, for that would be bragging. The best I can say is that I could not be arrested for indecent exposure."

Another example of why she is so wonderfully quotable, p. 43:"...They did not know of the way an average Southern child, white or black, is raised on simile and invective. They know how to call names. It is an everyday affair to hear somebody called a mullet-headed, mule-eared, wall-eyed, hog-nosed, 'gator-faced, shad-mouthed, screw-necked, goat-belled, puzzle-gutted, camel-backed, butt-sprung, battle-hammed, knock-kneed, razor-legged, box-ankled, shovel-footed, unmated so and so! Eyes looking like skint-ginny nuts, and mouth looking like a dishpan full of broke-up crockery! They can tell you in simile exactly how you walk and smell. They can furnish a picture gallery of your ancestors, and a notion of what your children will be like. What ought to happen to you is full of images and flavor. Since that stratum of the Southern population is not given to book-reading, they take their comparisons right out of the barnyard and the woods. When they get through with you, you and your whole family look like an acre of totem-poles."

44 - "The wish to be back in school had never left me. But alone by myself and feeling it over, I was scared. Before the job I had been lonely; I had been bare and bony of comfort and love. Working with these people I had been sitting by a warm fire for a year and a half and gotten used to the feel of peace. Now I was to take up my pilgrim's stick and go outside again."

44 - "But his looks only drew my eyes in the beginning. I did not fall in love with him just for that. He had a fine mind and that intrigued me. When a man keeps beating me to the draw mentally, he begins to get glamorous."

p.51:"I wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in Haiti. It was dammed up in me, and I wrote it under internal pressure in seven weeks. I wish I could write it again. In fact, I regret all of my books. It is one of the tragedies of life that one cannot have all the wisdom one is ever to possess in the beginning. Perhaps , it is just as well to be rash and foolish for a while. If all writers were too wise, perhaps no books would be written at all."

Dust Tracks; Chapter: Concert, additional chapter from Folklore, Memoirs, & Other Writings p. 804: "On January 10, 1932, I presented a Negro Folk Concert at the John Golden Theater in New York.

I am not a singer, a dancer, nor even a musician. I was, therefore, seeking no reputation in either field. I did the concert because I knew that nowhere had the general public ever heard Negro music as done by Negroes. There had been numerous concerts of Negro spirituals by famous Negro singers, but none as it was done by, let us say, Macedonia Baptist Church. They had been tampered with by musicians, and had their faces lifted to the degree that when real Negroes heard them, they sat back and listened just like white audiences did. It was just as strange to them as to the Swedes, for example. Beautiful songs and arrangements but going under the wrong titles.

...my years of research accented this situation inside of me and trouble me. Was the real voice of my people never to be heard? This ersatz Negro music was getting on. It was like the story from Hans Christian Anderson where the shadow became a man.That would not have been important if the arrangements had been better music than the originals, but they were not."

p 805: "...They were highly flavored with Bach and Brahms, and Gregorian chants, but why drag them in? It seemed to me a determined effort to squeeze all of the rich black juice out of the songs and present a sort of musical octoroon to the public. Like some more "passing for white."

p 808: "But this I do know, that people became very much alive to West Indian dancing and work songs. I have heard myself over the air dozens of times and felt the influence of that concert running through what has been done since."

( )
  bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
One of the more creative autobiographies I have ever read. Zora Neale Hurston was a very unique person who was sorely underappreciately and is sorely missed. We need more writers like her. ( )
  dolphinluver22000 | Apr 4, 2009 |
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Angelou, MayaIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Gleich scheinbar totem, kaltem Gestein trage ich in mir die Spuren der Materie, die einst daranging, mich zu machen.
Like the dead-seeming, cold rocks, I have memories within that came out of the materials that went to make me. Time and place have had their say.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060854081, Paperback)

First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston's candid, funny, bold, and poignant autobiography, an 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. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston's very personal literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life -- public and private -- of an extraordinary artist, anthropologist, chronicler, and champion of the black experience in America. Full of the wit and wisdom of a proud, spirited woman who started off low and climbed high, Dust Tracks on a Road is a rare treasure from one of literature's most cherished voices.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:37 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

An exuberant account of Zora Neale Hurston's rise from poverty in the rural south to a prominent place among the leading artists and intelectuals of the Harlem Renaissance.

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