HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Zora!: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston
Authors: Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin
Cover Illustrator: Mike Benny
Publisher: Clarion Books, 2012
Related website: http://www.hmhbooks.com (publishers)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Fradin, Dennis Brindell, and Fradin, Judith Bloom. Zora!: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (published in 2012 by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Ave. S., New York City, NY 10003). Before this book was published, I was offered a copy for review, but when I agreed I was told that no more copies were available. However, I recently obtained a copy. Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was an African-American folklorist, anthropologist, and author, born in Notasulga, AL, the fifth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). Her father was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated in the United States. Her father later was elected as mayor of the town. In 1904, Hurston’s mother died, and her father remarried to Matte Moge who sent her away to a Baptist boarding school in Jacksonville, FL. From there, Hurston worked at several different jobs, attended a number of educational institutions, and decided to become a writer.
In 1921, Hurston wrote a short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus. She also studied anthropology and conducted ethnographic research in the United States, the Caribbean, and Central America. For a time beginning in 1925, she lived in New York City and participated in the Haarlem Renaissance along with Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, Wallace Thurman, and many others. By the mid-1930s, Hurston had published several short stories and the critically acclaimed Mules and Men (1935), a groundbreaking work of “literary anthropology” documenting African-American folklore from timber camps in North Florida. Unfortunately, despite writing the luminary work Their Eyes Were Watching God, her best-known novel, in 1937, Hurston was always short of money and often found herself in abject poverty. None of her books sold more than a thousand copies while she was alive and her work slid into obscurity for decades, she was rediscovered a decade after her death by a new generation of readers and many of her titles have been reissued in recent years.
This biography by husband and wife team Dennis and Judith Fradin, who have written a number of superbly researched biographies for young readers, begins with Hurston as a middle-aged woman working as a maid to make ends meet, goes back to chronicle her story from birth, and then moves on to discuss the remainder of her life. It is copiously illustrated with wonderful black and white photographs throughout. However, little is said of her basic conservatism. She was an outspoken anti-communist and generally objected to the New Deal, supporting the 1952 presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft. Also, she opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954, saying that if separate schools were truly equal (and she believed that they were rapidly becoming so), educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education. And she criticized preferential treatment for African-Americans as if “a whole system must be upset for me to win.” For those who are into studying “Black History Month,” this book would make a good resource.