“Spunk” (1925) by Zora Neale Hurston

 

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was one of the leading writers of the Harlem Renaissance. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida in one of the first towns in the US incorporated as a home for black people. She went to high school in Baltimore at the Morgan School which was affiliated with Morgan State University. She went to college at Howard University and then Barnard University where she studied anthropology. Her studies took her then to Columbia University in NYC in the mid 1920’s where she became affiliated with the writers and artists who were leading the Harlem Renaissance. Her first published short story was “Spunk”. It is set in Eatonville, written in Negro dialect, and explores the town’s reactions to a scandalous love triangle.

 

Hurston’s intended audience was not the people of her home town. She was writing for the sophisticated NYC intellectuals who sought to bring to life a new voice for black Americans. Harlem was the destination for tens of thousands of African Americans who were moving north during the 1920’s as part of the first wave of the Great Migration. Some leaders of the Harlem Renaissance had embraced W.E.B. DuBois’ call for a ‘talented tenth’ to demonstrate that blacks possessed the intellectual poise and creativity to assimilate into white society. Hurston’s take on this approach to advancing the cause of African Americans can be measured by her intentions in this story.

 

Questions to Consider:

 

·         What is Hurston trying to teach the sophisticated Harlem intellectuals who wish to leave behind their humble sharecropper roots in the South?

 

·         What specifically African beliefs and rituals are made manifest in the culture of Eatonville?

 

·         Lemann argues that the sharecropper culture had already emerged as a ‘culture of poverty’ which moved to the ghettos of great Northern cities with the Great Migration.

 

·         How might Hurston rebut Lemann’s conclusion?