Last Reviewed on April 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1194
Chapter 10: Research
Research is “formalized curiosity,” according to Zora, and it played a significant role in her post-college professional development. Zora’s mentor and professor Franz Boas, whom she called Papa Franz, sent her on a journey to collect Southern folklore after she graduated from Barnard. Thus began a stormy period of research in which Zora risked her life for her work. “My life was in danger several times,” she recalls.
For example, there was an incident in Polk County, Florida, where Zora was almost murdered. She had formed a friendship with “Big Sweet,” a tough black woman who ran with a rough crowd. Big Sweet provided Zora with plenty of helpful research material, but she did much more than that: she protected Zora from a woman named Lucy who tried to kill Zora with a knife.
After this incident, Zora fled to New Orleans, where she immersed herself in the study of Hoodoo, a kind of “sympathetic magic.” She submitted herself to several Hoodoo rituals, including a three-day period where she had to lie on a couch naked with no food. She then moved on to the Bahamas to study black Bahamian culture. In the Bahamas, she weathered a five-day hurricane and fell in love with Bahamian music. Later, in 1932, Zora successfully concertized that music for an audience of white people in New York City.
Zora also visited the British West Indies and Haiti, where she met and photographed a zombie. “This act had never happened before in the history of man,” she says of the photograph. From her research, she penned the novel Tell My Horse, which is also sometimes published as Voodoo Gods.
Yet another of Zora’s books, Barracoon, drew inspiration from research collected in Mobile, Alabama. Barracoon is about Cudjo Lewis, a black man Zora met while performing research for the Journal of Negro History. Lewis lived in Takkoi as a slave and immigrated to the US in 1859, one of the last African slaves to be delivered to America.
Chapter 11: Books and Things
Inspiration for Zora’s first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, arrived in 1929, several years before she wrote it. While researching Southern black folklore, Zora realized that she didn’t want to write about fictional characters from a racial perspective. Rather, she wanted to write about them from a human perspective.
“I was afraid to tell the story the way I wanted,” says Zora, who put off writing the novel for three years. In the meantime, she assembled a concert of authentic black music and had it performed at the John Golden Theater in New York City in 1932. The concert dramatized life for Southern blacks, portraying “a working day on a railroad camp” with authentic songs and dances. Zora believes that the concert influenced American music culture for the better.
By 1932, the Great Depression had drained Zora’s financial resources, so she revisited the idea of Jonah’s Gourd Vine. She wrote and sold the novel, and an acceptance letter and check arrived from the publisher just in time, as she was broke and had been evicted by her landlord that very day for nonpayment of rent.
Zora’s most popular novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published several years later. Zora recalls writing this novel in Haiti: “It was dammed up in me, and I wrote it under internal pressure in seven weeks.” She says she wishes she could write it again; as a wiser person, there are things about it she would change. She concludes, however, that this is the nature of writing and publishing. A writer might change her mind about her novel later, but “if writers were too wise, perhaps no books would be written at all.”
Chapter 12: My People! My People!
Zora explores the saying “My people! My people!” and how black people often moan this phrase about other black people. “Well-mannered Negroes...
(The entire section contains 1194 words.)
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