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Cover image for Barracoon
Zora Neale Hurston
Social Science
African American Interest
A major literary event: a never-before-published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God that brilliantly illuminates the horror...
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A major literary event: a never-before-published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God that brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade--abducted from Africa on the last "Black Cargo" ship to arrive in the United States.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation's history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo's firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo's past--memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo's unique vernacular, and written from Hurston's perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Author Notes

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1901 in Eatonville, Fla. She left home at the age of 17, finished high school in Baltimore, and went on to study at Howard University, Barnard College, and Columbia University before becoming one of the most prolific writers in the Harlem Renaissance.

Her works included novels, essays, plays, and studies in folklore and anthropology. Her most productive years were the 1930s and early 1940s. It was during those years that she wrote her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, worked with the Federal Writers Project in Florida, received a Guggenheim fellowship, and wrote four novels. She is most remembered for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. In 2018, her previously unpublished work, Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, was published.

She died penniless and in obscurity in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, her grave was rediscovered and marked and her novels and autobiography have since been reprinted.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

This previously unpublished manuscript from Hurston (1891-1960) is a remarkable account of the life of Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the last American slave ship. Before writing Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was working as an anthropologist in 1927 when she traveled to Plateau, Ala., to interview 86-year-old Kossola. Returning to Plateau in 1931 for three months, Hurston documented Kossola's life story in this short manuscript, whose brevity disguises its richness and depth. Consisting primarily of transcriptions from their conversations, Kossola recalls his capture in Africa, the Middle Passage, his five and a half years as a slave, the Civil War, the struggles following Emancipation, and the terrors after Reconstruction (his son was killed by a deputy sheriff in 1902). Kossola was 19 years old when he was sold into slavery; thus, his accounts of folkways and traditions (e.g., the decapitated heads hanging from the belts of the Dahomian warriors who captured him) offer more graphic and personal immediacy than other surviving narratives of the slave trade, like those of Equiano or Gronniosaw, who were small children at the time of their capture. While Hurston acknowledges that her account "makes no attempt to be a scientific document, but on the whole is rather accurate," Kossola's story-in the vernacular of his own words-is an invaluable addition to American social, cultural, and political history. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A newly discovered work of anthropological and historical reportage by the canonical African-American writer.Cudjo Lewis (c. 1841-1935), originally named Kossola, was enslaved in America for five years. An Isha Yoruba from the town of Bant, he arrived in Alabama as the Civil War was stirring. A student of the pioneering ethnologist Franz Boas, Hurston (Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States, 2001, etc.) conducted a series of interviews with Lewis toward the end of his life, in 1927, who, on learning of her interest, said, "Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe day go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody say, Yeah, I know Kossola.' " The initial manuscript, a scholarly article, fell into disrepute when, in the 1970s, scholars discerned that it borrowed heavily from existing literature. This fuller manuscript derives from Hurston's original fieldwork, so that there is no question of plagiarism. Editor Plant observes that in the work, Hurston "was engaged in the process of actualizing her vision of herself as a social scientist and an artist who was determined to present Kossola's story in as authentic a manner as possible." That authenticity includes rendering his words in patois. While Hurston writes that even though Kossola's account is not strictly historical, it serves "to emphasize his remarkable memory." That mark of the griot, or West African traditional storyteller, is evident as Kossola recounts moments of resistance, as when enslaved women rose up against a vicious overseer: "dey all jump on him and lashee him wid it. He doan never try whip Affican women no mo'." Such episodes, including one in which Kossola tried to convince his former owner to give the manumitted slaves some of the land on which he worked, are historically valuable indeed, while his renderings of biblical stories and West African folktales are of ethnographic interest.We are fortunate to have this late work of Hurston's, which is sure to be widely read. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In 1931, years before the fiction and folklore that ultimately would make her famous, Hurston completed a nonfiction account of a man who was one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade. Kossola (Cudjo Lewis) was captured at age 19, lived for five-and-a-half years as a slave, and later helped found Africatown, renamed Plateau, Alabama. As an ethnographer, Hurston came to meet and interview the 86-year-old Kossola but understood the value of his first-person narrative as folk art, preserving stories and traditions conveyed by those who actually lived them. Like a griot and in his own vernacular, Kossola recalled his life in Africa, the wars that resulted in enslavement, the Middle Passage journey to America, and life as a slave. He also spoke of his Christian faith and memories of the spiritual traditions of his homeland and his lifelong yearning for Africa. The introduction provides context for Hurston's struggle with the conventions of ethnography and her own appreciation for the opportunity to learn about the slave trade from the perspective of the enslaved. This is a fascinating look at the journey of one man, reflective of the African American experience. It also attests to Hurston's development as an author and ethnographer, and stands as a work of profound relevance, its illumination of slavery, freedom, and race as timely as ever. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This newly published work by trailblazer Hurston, with a foreword by Alice Walker, will garner tremendous attention.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2018 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Versatile, seasoned narrator Robin Miles is as comfortable narrating literary historic context as she is effortlessly adopting the vernacular patois of an octogenarian former slave. Published almost 90 years after its completion, Hurston's (Their Eyes Were Watching God) presentation of Oluale Kossula, the last survivor of the final U.S. slave ship Clotilda, appears now with an illuminating introduction by scholar Deborah G. Plant. Kossula was enslaved in 1860 at 19 for five years and renamed Cudjo Lewis; her experiences after emancipation continued to be difficult and tragic. Hurston's interviews became a delicate process requiring multiple visits from New York to Alabama over four years, punctuated by shared peaches, watermelons, ham, and blue crab. With patient tenacity, Hurston immortalizes Kossula's words into cultural, anthropological, historical, and political testimony; Miles ensures readers will faithfully and accurately hear every word. That said, missing on audio is Alice Walker's foreword, which is included in print; Walker is credited with post-humously elevating Hurston from obscurity. VERDICT Libraries will want to enhance availability of this best seller by providing easy access to Miles's superb performance. ["A brief book that tells a significant story; for fans of Hurston and African American and world history": LJ 5/1/18 review of the Amistad: HarperCollins hc.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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