A TRIBUTE TO RUTH BROWN, MISS RHYTHM (1/12/28-11/17/06)

Readers, Windows 10 has struck again… and this time don’ run off with some of my saved documents!

Fortunately, I had a hard copy of my original post on Ruth Brown, but the guest post by Bill Griggs, local Renaissance man who knew and loved Miss B fiercely, along with comments from her long time Band member/friend the famed New York saxophonist Bill Easley is MIA.

Many of you who follow my posts know of my affinity for Music.  I am a listener/sing alonger/lover of all kinds of music especially Jazz, soulful R&B, Blues, Hip hop, Country… did she say Country… Yes. Country. Especially folk like local Black cowboy Angelo Mayo,  Sugarland, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown Band, Rascal Flats, Reba, Bonnie Raitt, Darius Rucker and even some Rap… T.Payne’s It’s a Circus, The Notorious B.I.G (my road song thanks to JoanG), Mos Def (did you know he has left the country?), Common, and on quieter, reflective occasions straight-ahead-jazz (thanks Daddy) and classical including my extremely talented cello/guitar/ piano playing grandson KhalifW, Regina Carter, and  Vivaldi, to name a very few .

My favorite music, of course, playing as I write, on my ipod (used to be CDs), are the renderings of various bluesy, jazzy, soulful Male and Female crooners, the latter ranging from Bettye Lavette, Phyllis Hyman, Ledisi, Oleta, Rachelle, Farrell, Fantasia, Nina, Billie and of course, Miss Rhythm herself, Ruth Brown.

When I was a pigtail and bang, crinoline slip, black patent leather shoe wearing puff of innocence living in Norfolk, Virginia…  Just across the river in Portsmouth, hometown phenom, Ruth Brown aka  Miss Rhythm was making a name for herself in the world of music. That bluesy, “torchy, church and jazz schooled voice” that helped build  Atlantic Records in the 50s to the music giant it would later become had her start singing in church and later won a contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater that propelled her to become winner of a Tony, Grammy ( 1990, 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award), W.C. Handy, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee during her long career.

Little did I know skipping up and down the streets of Marshall Manor and later newly built Victory Manor in Portsmouth that one day some 50 years later our paths would cross and this musical wonder would leave a lasting impact on my life/heart.

Ruth Brown became the voice of Atlantic Records making chart topping hits like So Long, Tear Drops in Her Eyes, and (Mama) He Treats your Daughter Mean.  Her more than two dozen hits, including Blues, R& B and later Rock and Roll, turned AR into a  record giant and  it was dubbed The House that Ruth Built. Her relationship with AR ended in 1961 following contract disputes when like so many black artists, Ruth discovered she was not being fairly compensated for the hits she was making.

Undaunted, Ruth Brown reinvented herself in the 70s and began recording blues and jazz again.  She won a Tony for her role in Broadway’s Black and Blue.  And had a starring role in the film Hairspray where she played the feisty DJ. She also showcased her hosting talents on two NPR shows, all the while continuing to perform at concerts and nightclubs in the U.S and overseas to throngs of adoring fans.

It was during the resurgence of her career in the early 2000s that I met the famed Miss Ruth Brown.  At 77, she was preparing a return to the newly renovated Norfolk Attucks Theater (where she had performed at age 16 without her father’s knowledge).  A friend, GregC, at local Public Television station, WHRO, told me that a California director, Don O. was looking for a local person to assist with research for a documentary  on Miss Brown’s life.  I quickly contacted Don and offered my services, and for the next few months was launched into a worldwind of activity researching the life of Ruth Brown from a variety of local sources.

I spent hours searching dusty files tucked away in the rich archives of the Portsmouth Public library (thank you Mae H.) and the microfilm viewers at the Norfolk Public library,  hunting down pictures, newspaper articles, memorabilia, anything I could find on this Portsmouth native. Thanks to archivist Dr.TommieB at NSU library, I was able to obtain black and white photos from the 60s taken of Ruth Brown and radio personality Jack Holmes at a local event. I even stumbled across a beautiful 8×10 of her, at of all places, the Portsmouth Naval Museum…who knew? One of her most ardent fans (and high school sweetheart) even had a delicate, crumbling autographed B&W photo of her taken at Sunset Lake Park (remember that spot) hanging on his Portsmouth garage wall!

For weeks, I worked the phones talking to people who knew Ruth Brown, folks from her teenage days at Norcom High School who included the likes of Mayor Holley, Councilman  Whitehust, former School Supt. Horace Savage, jazz player Johnny Day, and distinguished, retired  Mr. Sanford (a former RB suitor) and a host of other likeable, gracefully aging seniors who all had fond memories of  Miss Brown. We made arrangements to have a surprise ‘class reunion’ backstage after the performance at the Attucks.

After immersing myself in all things Ruth Brown, I finally met the great lady as she rehearsed with her band a few days prior to the Attucks performance.  Don, the producer, introduced us and she graciously greeted me like I was an old friend.  She was delighted to learn I was a ‘hometown’ girl and invited me  to join her backstage on the night of the performance. It was at that time, I also met Bill Easley, her long time  NY friend, band member and sax player extraordinaire whose resume included recording with the likes of Issac Hayes, George Benson, Jimmy McGriff and other jazz greats including Ruth Brown. Our friendship continues today bonded by the initial connection to Miss B.

Despite needing a cane for support (she had injured her knees in a car crash years ago), Ruth Brown was still a fireball of energy, had an infectious smile, sophisticated style, and a voice that filled the 600 seat auditorium of the Attucks Theater.

On the night of her performance, I was busy greeting the ‘class reunion’ members and getting them seated, shopping for flowers for her dressing room, ‘rehearsing’ the presentation by her classmate that would follow Portsmouth Mayor Holley and Norfolk Vice Mayor Hester’s presentation of her cake, and overall just trying to be helpful to the staff of the Attucks.

When Miss Brown came backstage, her Assistant asked me if I would sit with her while she was waiting to go on.  I was both floored and honored and quickly pulled up a chair next to the exquisitely gowned Miss B. We held hands tightly and talked quietly as she ‘calmed herself’ for this ‘debut back in front’ of her hometown some 50 years after she had ‘left town’. When the band played her intro, she released my hand and said, “Honey, I got this…I’m walking out there on my own.”  She squeezed my hand and in true Ruth Brown style gracefully glided onto the stage.

The next time I saw Ruth Brown was about a month later when I traveled through the snow to join Director Don and his friends at a New York nightclub, Le Jazz Au Bar, where Miss Brown was performing. When we went backstage to greet her, she noticed me standing off from the group and said, “There’s my hometown girl, what you doing up here in the big city?” We both laughed and warmly embraced and spent some time catching up on Portsmouth goings on.

Sadly, almost a year later, following a stroke and heart attack while living/performing in Nevada, Ruth Brown’s light was extinguished. I along with hundreds of others attended her funeral services at Willet Hall in her beloved Portsmouth where she had returned on many previous occasions to see a street named in her honor, a scholarship established in her name; a star placed on Granby Street; and a parade and banquet recognizing her as a Notable.

Although, I only knew her a short time, this sassy, blues, R&B and Rock and Roll lady will always be in my heart and music collection! She was a survivor who  like my muse writer Zora Neale Hurston overcame challenges of  racism, sexism, and health to realize her dream.

And to my friends Bill Griggs and Bill Easley, if you are reading this, I am sure the Readers would love to hear from you!

Stay tuned and as always….thanks for reading!

 

Advertisements

BLACK LOVE

READERS: Many folks Talk about it, Blog about it, Post FB pictures ( President Obama and First Lady Michelle mostly) about it, BUT what does it REALLY Mean?

.. HE grabs your hand tightly as you cross the street headed to the 7:30 A.M. Service and seats you in the pew behind the friendly, devout, notafraidtositclosetoeachother,  80 year old couple and you both share a knowing look as you ponder will that…could that…pray that it will be US in another 20 years.

…He posts your picture on ALL his Social Media sites after you crack the glass ceiling at your job proclaiming your success to the www.

…He buys you a month’s worth of Meat and secretly stores it in the recesses of the freezer even though you are trying to become a Vegetarian; he knows you will be craving a steak,chop or burger soon.

,,,He knows your affinity for Capt D’s, Feather & Fin, Popeyes, Bojangles, Mickey Ds, Cookout, and other purveyors of grease-soaked foods and keeps a collection of newpaper coupons handy in your glove compartment.

…He plugs himself into the 50″ Sanyo every Sunday and travels to Fanatic Football Land but not before fixing you a mound  of pancakes, bacon and homefries.

…He lets you eat the first half of Chunky Monkey/Butter Pecan from the carton  while bingewatching House of cards and doesn’t complain about the uneaten (slightly wet) chocoate chips/nuts you leave in the carton.

…He  expertly and flawlessly sings your favorite Temptations song at Karaoke nite while the entire bar makes a collective sigh.

…He is short on cash, but “acquires” some New tires from Questionable sources for your aging vehicle

…He fries your favorite fish, runs you an epsom salt-lavender scented bath, puts your 80s mixtape in the player, chills a bottle of Red Stripe, and leaves the house so you can have some Me Time.

…He gets your voicemail and goes to Kay jeweler to purchase the sapphire ring and pendant set YOU selected earlier for your birthday/anniversary/mothers day/ Christmas/Valentines day…

…He responds to your BLACKPEOPEMEET post with “Hello Beautiful” even before he meets you for the first time, and after the first meeting, greets your phone calls with the same quiet,sincere, straight from the heart greeting.

…He avoids commenting when you load the shopping cart with jalapeno cheetos, famous amos, triple buttered microwave popcorn, chunky monkey, frozen jalapeno poppers, and an assortment of other waist expanding goodies.

TO Be Continued… Don’t forget to leave your comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAVING THEIR SAY: Our Grandmothers

Lately, I’ve been thinking about being a Nana ( to 4 grandsons). The announcement by two close Boomer friends ( FH, SS) that they were about to enter Nanaland was the trigger for this contemplation. Like many other Boomers who are now being called Granny, Grandmama, Mima, Abuela, Baba, Nai Nai, Grandmere, Ya Ya, Oma and the super cool hip hop Gmom, my knowledge of this role comes from my interaction with my own Grandmother Rachel.

Grandma Rachel lived to be 100 plus years. No, she didn’t get her picture on the Today show smucker jelly commercial, but she did receive many accolades/awards during her lifetime. Much of it was for service in her NY community and church where she remained active until her later years.

My fondest memories of her were the summers she traveled from the big Apple to Norfolk to make her yearly sojourn down South. A native North Carolinian, Grandma Rachel had made her home in New York, but her roots ran deep in southern soil.

News of her impending visit, would always cause a bustle of activity in our household as my mother supervised our cleaning/polishing/scrubbing activity….girl you better use that comet to clean under that toilet..what you afraid of?

But I knew Grandma Rachel didn’t care about whether the house was spic and span, she just wanted to visit her children and enjoy afternoons on the porch sipping ice cold coke while she braided my long Indian rope hair and reminisced about summertime in Scotland Neck. The memory of those visits can literally turn my frown into a smile and brighten my hectic days.

A few years ago, I reconnected with my 93 year old cousin Mamie who also has fond memories of Grandma Rachel…she called her Mama. The 30 year difference in our age makes the idea of her being my cousin somewhat eyebrow raising to many, but she was in fact my 90 something year old father’s niece…talk about a family tree. Out of respect for her and the significant age difference between us, I always referred to her as Aunt Mamie which seemed more fitting.

Aunt Mamie was a phenomenon. A survivor. A Bible Scholar. A pillar of the community. Loved by many grands, nieces, nephews, blood and non-blood. She was a praying/God fearing/believing Grandma whose hands had seen many days hard work. She raised her own 5 children and those of many others including my brother and I (for one year).

Her melodious voice which often reminded me of someone singing was never without a word of encouragement/praise/forgiveness for those who had the good fortune to be in her presence. She loved a good laugh and often delivered some one liners that were comedian worthy. As the ravages of old age began to invade her body, she remained stalwart believing that her God was always right there delivering her from the pain, the sickness, the dark days. He is worthy to be praised she would sing, smiling that almost ethereal smile. She was a blessing. She was Mima . (Thank you Minnie).

The book Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 years by sisters Bessie and Sadie Delany comes to mind when I reflect on these strong women. Their story is a testament to the strength/survival of African Americans. It is also an example of the oral tradition so important in documenting the lives of African American in this country.

For the Delany sisters, their story begins with freedom and ends with an understanding of the importance, not only of their lives, but of all who struggle to comprehend our raison d’etre.

Although the Delany sisters did not experience slavery firsthand, their account in Having Our Say replicates the structure of the slave narrative juxtaposing the slave’s experience with that of eventual freedom. The color issue, ever present in this personal history, impacts the lives of the two sisters with a deafening insistence often found in African American culture, even today.

The opening chapters of the book provide an introduction to the members of the Delany family complete with a description of their physical attributes including color.

People would look at us Delany children and wonder where in the world this bunch came from. We were very different shades from nearly white to brown sugar. I (Sadie) was one of the lighter children and Bessie was browner.

Sadie’s forthright, philosophical approach to the color issues does not, however, reflect the general sentiment of other members of the race. In fact, the acceptance of racial identity is an integral part of the rite of passage of the black female in this society. Her acceptance of racial identity is crucial to survival in a world which is often hostile to people of color.

As we learn more about the personalities of the sisters, we find that Sadie is the calmer, more passive sibling while Bessie struggles with the anger and frustration brought on by dealing with a hostile, color conscious world. Adversity has made Bessie the stronger of the two. She attributes her longevity to meanness and sheer determination. This same attitude/fortitude has made survivors of many of our mothers and grandmothers.

The sisters eventually (like my Grandmother Rachel) left the South and migrated North to Harlem. Bessie continued to battle racism and sexism by gaining admission as the sole black female in Columbia University Dental School. Sadie became her mother’s companion and spent much of her time traveling through the South. The sisters finally made their home in Mt. Vernon, NY where they enjoyed the privileges of the Negro Intelligentsia.

The sisters’ journey ended following the publication of their book…Sadie at 106 and Dr. Bessie at 104. Their memoir remains an important document in American history. It refutes the portrayal so common in history/literature of the black woman as mammy/matriarch/sex object/ or THOT.

The Delany sisters experienced the multifarious damage and distance of class and race in the segregated South and went on to battle the racism and sexism of a Renaissance North. This oral history is a testament to the determination and strength which makes GrandMamas a force to be reckoned with.

Negro History/Black History/African American History?

 

Okay, it’s finally here, February…the month I love to hate. And no, it’s not the 25,000 calorie consuming Super Sunday event that makes folks fanatical and grown men cry. Nor is it that cutesy bow and arrow kid all dressed in red taunting us to Buy, Buy, Buy even when there is No Significant Other for some of us to buy for. And it’s not even the days spent watching the weather forecast, checking the Farmer’s Almanac praying that the cold front from Canada doesn’t descend on Virginia and kill all my early budding perennials.

It’s the celebration of history and culture in February that has me wondering just who the *** am I ?

Lawd, this gurl done only wrote 10 posts this year and she already threatening a breakdown…

Reader, The 28 or 29 days of remembrance/activities associated with the history and culture of My people, frankly causes me to ponder. And now that I have left teaching and begun this journey as a writer, it has given me even more pause.

You see, in the early years, Black History Month was a time when I could legitimately get away with talking about the contributions of Black authors, poets, playwrights, rappers, etc. in my classroom without getting those raised eyebrows from an administrator who happened to stroll by my door.

Okay, I admit, I was a radicaluncoventionalgetitdonebyanymeansnecessary kinda teacher and culture abounded in my English class…year round. My walls were covered with the requisite grammar/writing/poetry/nod to Shakespeare, Keats posters. But they were also decorated with pictures of Zora, Langston, Alice,  Baldwin, Tupac and Alicia Keyes. I practiced equal opportunity teaching every chance I got. And Every good teacher knows in order to Really teach and reach your students, said students must be able to identify with the subject matter. And I knew/learned how to accomplish that.

In fact, the walls not only reflected African American artists, but artists from all ethnic/racial demographics…and not just in the month in which this Society has allocated for their recognition.

The result: My students were the liveliest, most well informed, high scoring, inquisitive make the school look good bunch (I and Principal W. knew). And They actually looked forward to coming to Rm 10, 3rd period English.

We got to talk to her about this horn tooting…do you think we should have an Intervention…call Dr. Oz? Oprah?

These same students in the person of an intensely serious 7th grader named Janeen (who announced during her introduction the first day of class that she was going to be a Medical doctor) inquired politely during our yearly study of Greek Mythology why we weren’t learning about the Egyptians whom her dad said really had the first myths. And nearly took over my laser pointer that day and challenged me to find the stories of mythological figures whose faces looked like theirs. This challenge by Janeen and the entire class..you always tell us to search for information, Ms. Goss ..led to the writing of my/their first book. (The book Dedication, accordingly was ascribed to that class and the cover drawing credited to a student who didn’t care much for writing… but enjoyed hearing about those Egyptian myth guys.

So, with 25 days left to go, Reader, and a calendar that’s overflowing with all kinds of delightful cultural offerings (only someone on speed could conceivably attend them all), I have to question why this Celebration has to be squeezed into OnE month and can’t be spread out all over the entire year. I mean we are Black every day, aren’t we?

Mercy…This chile need help…Can’t be her upbringing..des Presbyterians..umph, umph, umph.

 

Bye y’all!

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD: A Search for Self

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.  Some come in with the tide.  Others sail forever on the horizon…That is the life of man.

Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget.  The dream is the truth.

And so the novel opens.  The storyteller begins to weave the tale starting at the end and bringing us back circuitously to the beginning

Janie, dressed in muddy overalls and weary from her journey relates her story to friend Pheoby.  This sharing of her tale is not only an affirmation, but evokes the age old practice of sharing or confessional which has now evolved into the Talk Show. (think Oprah, Ellen, Steve Harvey)

Janie saw her life “like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches”.

We learn that Janie’s journey of self has taken her through three marriages and many struggles.  Walker notes that Eyes is generally thought of as a love story, but its theme, she believes, is Janie’s search for identity which finally takes shape when she throws off the images thrust upon her because she is both black and a woman in a society where neither is allowed to exist naturally and freely.

Literature is replete with stories of this search for identity. The Bildungsroman is a novel that traces the development of character from childhood to adulthood, through a quest for identity that leads the protagonist to maturity.

The story of Siddhartha often comes to mind when I think of the protagonist of Eyes. Like Siddhartha, Janie’s world is full of natural images that symbolize the role of nature in the character’s quest for a better understanding of self.

In trying to decide whether marriage to Logan Killicks and his oft mentioned thirty acres was the answer, Jane was back and forth to the pear tree…continuously wondering and thinking.

She looked to the horizon for answers.  And she soon realized that marriage to the lackluster Mr. Killicks, despite his financial security was not her idea of love. Nanny, however, thinks that marrying Mr. Killicks will be the answer. She tells, Janie.. The ni**er woman is de mule uh de world so far as Ah can see.  Ah been prayin fuh it tuh be different wid you.

But Janie realizes marriage to Mr. Killicks is not the answer. Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you sit under a pear tree and think. She ends the marriage when she hurries out the front gate and turned South.  Zora writes, Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.

Janie’s second husband, the domineering, boastful Joe Starks from in and around Georgy represented newness and change. Janie knew that Joe did not represent sun up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon.  To Janie, this represented another rung on the ladder of self fulfillment.

Marriage to Mayor Starks, however, proved to be demoralizing as Janie realized that he wanted her to play the role of the submissive wife keeping her thoughts and opinions to herself…Mah wife don’t know nothing ’bout no speech-making, he tells a crowd.  Ah never married her for nothing lak dat.  She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.

After twenty years, the marriage ends with Joe dying from a longterm  illness, during which he refused to see Janie.  Finally, Janie confronts Joe on his death bed..All dis bowin’ down, all dis obedience under yo’ voice-dat ain’t why Ah rushed off down de road tuh fund out about you.

At Joe’s funeral, Janie ...starched and ironed her face and came set in.  She sent her face to Joe’s funeral but herself went rollicking with the springtime across the world.  Janie’s journey for self discovery continues.

It is here that Zora’s fictional life and real life seem to intersect (this often happens in a novel).  Zora meets and falls in love with the real love of her life.  He was tall, dark brown, magnificiently built with a beautifully modeled back head…And he was an Alpha man. However, Zora notes, she did not fall in love with him because of looks..he had a fine mind and that intrigued me.

He was a man who wanted to do for her...But nothing, she writes..must be in my life but himself.  Zora’s career and fierce independence began to interfere with their relationship. Finally, Zora found escape from the struggle to maintain her ‘self’ in the relationship in the form of a Guggenheim Fellowship.  For two years she was to study/research out of the country.  Eyes was published in 1937 while she was in the Caribbean . She wrote it in only seven weeks.  This was my chance to release him and fight myself free from my obsession.  So I pitched in to work hard on my research to smother my feeling.  

Similarly, Janie’s love affair with Vergible Tea Cakes Woods, an easy going laborer, ten years her junior, represents her fulfillment in a union.  Tea Cakes teaches Janie ...de maiden language all over.  He is man enough to treat her as an equal and they spend their days traveling from job to job working the land, in unison with nature. The novel ends on a bittersweet note as Janie’s dream fades into reality and she realizes the journey one must travel to distinguish role from self.

Many literary critics say that Eyes is the quintessential love story. However, like Zora’s own real life, Eyes is also a story of survival and realization of self. In her autobiography, Zora writes…Be that as it may, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have loved and been loved by the perfect man.  If I never hear of love again, I have known the real thing.

And in true tongue-in-cheek Zora fashion, quips: But pay no attention to what I say about love..it may not mean a thing…Just because my mouth opens up like a prayer book, it does not just have to flap like a Bible.

Love. Life. Identity. Illusion. Reality. Dream. Truth. Roles. Self. Nature. Struggle.  Their Eyes Were Watching God is all this and so much more…just turn the pages.

FOR ZORA

IMG_0094

(Reader, If this appears as one long paragraph, my apologies…working with a new computer and it apparently doesn’t respond to my commands)

This month marks the 125th birthday celebration of literary artist Zora Neale Hurston. Those of you who followed my original blog in 2013-14, know that I am a bonafide Zora Neale Hurston lover.
My first encounter with Zora was in the 90s during my grad school days at ODU where I was one of a few black students enrolled in an AA Lit course. The syllabus of which included the controversial Harlem Renaissance writer. After reading her autobio, Dust Tracks on the Road and then her novel Their Eyes were Watching God, I was hooked. My book budget was soon devoted to purchasing all of her works and a gaggle of literary criticism about her

.
I even applied for a goverment grant when the semester ended so I could study more of her writings during my summer off from teaching . My father fondly referred to this practice as “teacher welfare”. And I was a master grant writer back in those days. For six glorious weeks, I read books by and about Zora , communicated in person and online with other Zora devotees and immersed myself in all things Zora.
As we near the end of January, I often find myself re-reading her famous novel, Their Eyes were Watching God (made even ‘famouser’ by Queen Oprah who turned it into a movie). and reflecting on the paradoxical, complex life that was Zora Neale Hurston.
This post will provide some background on Zora and Part 2 will follow next week.

January marks the 125th year of Zora Neale Hurston remembrance.
Appropriately, Zora’s annual celebration in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida is about to ‘jump off’ (last week of January). And perhaps some of you will be inspired to take the trip down 95 to Eatonville, the oldest incorporated Black town in the U.S, OR at least buy/download a copy of Eyes and settle in for a good read.
According to writer, Mary Helen Washington, Zora lived her life ‘half in shadow’. And in referring to herself after viewing a series of her photos, Zora noted:  I love Myself when I am laughing and then again when I am looking Mean and Impressive (this quote later became the title of a Reader edited by Alice Walker).

Walker summed it up:  we love Zora for her work first, and then again (as she and all of Eatonville would say), we love her for herself.
Biographer Robert Hemenway spent seven years and 30,000 miles touring the country trying to gain enough insight to put pen to paper about this paradoxical woman.
So, who, you ask was Zora Neale Hurston?
For 30 years, Zora was the most prolific black woman writer in America. Always curious as a child, Zora wrangled a scholarship from a white benefactor to attend Barnard in 1925. She was the only black student at Barnard at the time.  I became Barnard’s sacrificial animal, she once remarked. After Barnard, Zora evolved into her Self -Becoming a folklorist, anthropologist, novelist, feminist, and cultural revolutionary.
Zora was a complex person, adventure seeking, loved to laugh, throw parties, dance wildly, passionately sexual – a woman before her time. She did not believe in sexist roles. And according to Hemenway, traveled through the South alone with a handgun, a $2 dress, and a suitcase full of courage.
Zora was considered the darling of the Harlem Renaissance. But, conversely, Zora was the first writer to call the Harlem Renaissance literati, the ni**erati.  Alternately heralded and criticized by her contemporaries, Richard Wright accused Zora of… an apolitical approach to art that ignored the toll of racial prejudice. In typical Zora fashion, she responded, “No, I do not weep at the world– I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife”.
Much like a modern day griot (she even wore a headwrap), Zora studied her culture, celebrated the people/traditions and translated all of it for an audience that did not speak her language.  Refusing to separate herself from the common, ordinary porch people of Eatonville, her writing style was rich, full of the oral tradition transformed into written narrative. Zora celebrated the wit and expressive cadences of black cultures throughout the South and the Caribbean (Shapiro).
Alice Walker writes that the language of her characters…that comical ni**er dialect that has been laughed at, denied, ignored or improved so that white folks and educated black folks can understand it..is simply, beautiful.
So, how then did this prolific AA writer who published 4 novels, 2 folkores, an autbio and 50 short stories end up ill and penniless in a Florida welfare home in the late 50s… Dead by age 60, and buried in an unmarked grave in a weed filled segregated cemetery???
Unfortunately, Zora’s struggle for survival as a writer represented the norm for a generation of AA writers prior to the 60s. The sad truth is that she lived in a country that fails to honor its black artists.
Imagine this, one of her stories appeared in the Saturday Evening Post while Zora was working as a maid in New York! Alice Walker surmised that without money of one’s own in a capitalistic society, there is no such thing as independence. Amen to that!

Zora’s life is truly a cautionary tale.
In a final tribute to honor her spiritual mentor, Alice Walker, in 1973, traveled to the cemetary in Fort Pierce, Florida and put a tombstone in the area of Zora’s grave.
The tombstone read “A Genius of the South”, a line from poet Jean Toomer.

(Part 2, a literary essay of Their Eyes were Watching God that I authored several years ago..will follow next week).
Hmph…there she go tooting her own horn again..
Thank you for reading/commenting/sharing!